The Power of Electro-acupuncture in Pain Management

person holding a stress ball
Photo by Matthias Zomer on

In recent years, the scientific community has increasingly turned its attention towards the potential benefits of electroacupuncture in managing various types of persistent pain. Research focusing on the effects of electroacupuncture on inflammatory, neuropathic, cancer, and visceral pain has shown promising results. The way electroacupuncture interacts with the nervous system appears to differ depending on whether the body is healthy or experiencing pain. Intriguingly, it seems that electroacupuncture can effectively alleviate both the sensory and emotional aspects of inflammatory pain​.

The frequency at which electroacupuncture is administered plays a role in its efficacy. Studies indicate that lower frequencies (2 to 10 Hz) inhibit inflammatory and neuropathic pain more effectively than higher frequencies (100 Hz). The method operates through a variety of bioactive chemicals and works via peripheral, spinal, and supraspinal mechanisms. This includes opioids, which have a desensitizing effect on peripheral nociceptors and can reduce proinflammatory cytokines in peripheral sites and in the spinal cord. Additionally, neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine are involved, decreasing the phosphorylation of the N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor subunit GluN1 to inhibit pain​​.

Electroacupuncture’s influence on neuropathic pain, while less studied at the supraspinal level and peripheral sites, has been found to involve similar bioactive chemicals as those implicated in the inhibition of inflammatory pain​.

There is a limited but growing body of research on electroacupuncture’s effect on cancer-related pain and visceral pain. Some studies suggest electroacupuncture can mitigate cancer-induced pain by inhibiting spinal substances like SP, IL-1β, dynorphin, and transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1. For visceral pain, electroacupuncture appears to operate through peripheral, spinal, and supraspinal mechanisms involving various bioactive molecules, although how these structures and molecules interact remains unclear​.

While these findings provide strong evidence for the analgesic power of electroacupuncture, more research is needed to fully understand the underlying mechanisms, especially at the brain level. It’s also important to explore potential differences in response to electroacupuncture between males and females. These efforts could open up new opportunities for combining electroacupuncture with conventional medications, potentially enhancing pain management and reducing the side effects often associated with pharmaceutical treatments​.

By MEpps

Offering acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine at the L'Etoile, espace thérapeutique since 2004.