For many thousands of years, the Chinese have espoused the efficacy of acupuncture for pain relief. Surprisingly, an astonishing wealth of recently published investigations into all aspects of acupuncture and pain control provide scientific proof of the system.
Acupuncture also was found to be significantly more effective than either suggestion or sham acupuncture treatment in raising overall pain thresholds (Br Med J, 1977; 1 (6053): 67-70.)
In a long-term study, acupuncture so signicantly eased excruciating knee pain for patients while awaiting arthroplasty for osteoarthritic knee joints that 17 per cent of them felt they no longer needed the operation (Acta Anaesthesiol Scand, 1992; 36 (6): 519-25).
Acupuncture has also been found to help intractable pain caused by late cancer in all 17 patients of a trial involving low back stimulation through implanted electrodes at acupuncture points (Acupunct Electrother Res, 1982; 7 (4): 255-65.
Besides simple pain relief, acupuncture has a long, scientific history of successful use as an anesthetic. One study (Am Surg, 1975; 41 (1): 11-16) found that acupuncture can be used in conjunction with local anesthesia, nerve-block or alone with equal effectiveness for pain control.
In one study comparing ordinary chemical anesthesia with acupuncture anesthesia, acupuncture was found superior in terms of fewer illnesses, fewer demands for pain relief after surgery, restoration of urinary and bowel functions (often "frozen" after surgery), blood circulation and ability to regain normal functions (Anesthesia, 1990; 45 (6): 480-85 and 1991; 46 (2): 129-35.
Acupuncture has been used successfully in abdominal surgery (J R Soc Med, 1984; 77 (4): 295-98), biopsy of the large intestine (Dtsch Med Wochenschr,1 1991; 116 (10): 367-70), stomach surgery (Lancet, 1978; 1 (8057): 182-3), chest and heart surgery (Minerva Med, 1979; 70 (56): 3857-60), removal of the thymus gland (in myasthenia gravis) (Acupunct Electrother Res, 1988; 13 (1): 25-30), and general surgery (Anaesthesia 1976; 25 (5): 231-34.
It should be noted that some studies contradict these findings and show that success can depend on patient motivation.
Nothing in conventional medicine approaches the profound extent to which acupuncture has enabled science to understand how pain works. Thanks to exhaustive research, the exact analgesic pathway of acupuncture is now known.
On the way up from the point of needling, the stimulus travels via the nerve cells to the pituitary by way of precise locations in the brain (Brain Rees Bull, 1993; 30 (1-2): 53-67). The pathway of the stimulus which inhibits pain has also been tracked.
This astonishingly large volume of sound research on an alternative therapy gives lie to the widely held belief that research only gets done when large financial returns are the likely result.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath and homeopath.