AAPM 2009: New Data Point to Analgesic Effects of Acupuncture

Allison Gandey

February 09, 2009

February 9, 2009 (Honolulu, Hawaii) — Acupuncture appears to stimulate neuropeptide release, which might help clinicians treat chronic pain and addiction. Data presented at a plenary session here at the American Academy of Pain Medicine 25th Annual Meeting provide some support for the efficacy of this approach.

Dr. Jisheng Han

Jisheng Han, MD, director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at Peking University, in Beijing, China, demonstrated the effectiveness of acupuncture using molecular measures and brain imaging. Dr. Han is a former member of the executive committee of the International Narcotic Research Conference and is the founder of the Chinese Association for the Study of Pain.

The World Health Organization reports that acupuncture is useful in treating more than 40 functional disorders.

Dr. Han presented new research and ongoing studies, including some from the National Institutes of Health, suggesting the mechanisms and efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic pain and addiction.

"I was very excited to see scientific evidence on acupuncture," meeting attendee H.K. Kevin Du, MD, from the Advanced Interventional Pain Center at Memorial Hospital, in Belleville, Illinois, told Medscape Neurology & Neurosurgery. "I was under the impression that there is no scientific basis and it doesn't work. Dr. Han has outlined more than 40 years of results and the data are very convincing."

Scientific Basis for Treatment

During an interview, session moderator Todd Sitzman, MD, from the Forrest General Cancer Center, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, pointed out that although pain is a subjective problem, it can be objectively studied using functional outcomes.

He praised Dr. Han's work and emphasized the importance of such efforts. "Acupuncture is something that has been used by more than 1.3 billion individuals in China. While this culture has been largely closed to the West for many years, it's important that a cross-cultural exchange takes place and that it be a 2-way avenue."

In addition to outlining the data on traditional acupuncture, Dr. Han also described electroacupuncture — a system that uses skin electrodes in place of needles. He is the creator of the Han's Acupoint Nerve Stimulator (HANS) — a small handheld system that patients can slip into their pocket to use as needed.

HANS has been used in China to treat surgical pain, reduce the amount of anesthesia needed (in some cases reportedly by 50%), and help those addicted to drugs reduce cravings during detoxification.

Dr. Han showed that in most cases, using skin electrodes worked as well as or better than needles. He suggests that electroacupuncture works by strengthening normal homeostasis and promoting pleasant sensations that release endorphins.

"But the amount is not enough to give patients a high or cause dependence," Dr. Han said at the meeting. Still, he noted, to prevent tolerance, electroacupuncture should not be used more than 3 times a day.

In the case of addiction, Dr. Han reported that without treatment 100% of drug users relapse. With electroacupuncture, his group saw a 30% success rate at 1 year. "Drug users had the pocket HANS and could use it when they had a craving to help suppress the withdrawal," he explained.

"A pocket-sized analgesic stimulator is amazing," Dr. Du said during an interview. "The possibilities are endless."

Dr. Sitzman expressed similar enthusiasm. "I think the cross-cultural collaborative efforts are still very much in their infancy," he said. "But it is my hope that these efforts continue."

Dr. Jisheng Han reports that he has developed an electroacupuncture stimulator that is being studied in China.

American Academy of Pain Medicine 25th Annual Meeting: Plenary session 107. Presented January 30, 2009.

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