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Home > Research > Pain

A psychophysical analysis of acupuncture analgesia

By Price DD; Rafii A; Watkins LR; Buckingham B

From: Pain, 19: 1, 1984 May, 27-42

A psychophysical analysis of acupuncture analgesia was carried out in which low back pain patients made visual analogue scale (VAS) responses both to their chronic pain and to different levels of experimental heat pain (5 sec exposures to 43-51 degrees C) before and after electroacupuncture. VAS (sensory) responses to chronic pain, direct temperature matches to chronic pain, and VAS (sensory) responses to experimental pain were reduced in an internally consistent manner 1-2 h after treatment.

The magnitude of this analgesic response was similar for dermatomes within the region of chronic pain and acupuncture needle placement (lower back) as well as for dermatomes remote from needle placement and chronic pain (forearm). Individual patients manifested either (1) a central-inhibitory pattern of analgesia wherein experimental and chronic pain in back regions and experimental pain in forearm regions were reduced, or (2) an origin-specific pattern wherein only the chronic low back pain was reduced. Patients tested several days after treatment all manifested the latter pattern of analgesia. VAS sensory and VAS affective analgesic responses to electroacupuncture treatment showed a delayed onset (1-24 h) to maximum effect and a duration of 10-14 days. Cumulative sensory and affective analgesic effects were observed at the end of 4 months of biweekly acupuncture treatments.

The results of this analysis reveal the unique spatial and temporal properties of electroacupuncture analgesia and the extent to which it is mediated by at least two different mechanisms.

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