Acupuncture has been used to relieve pain for thousands of years. The practice involves inserting tiny needles into treatment points called acupoints. These acupoints contain immune, nerve, and circulatory tissues, and triggering these areas is thought to launch a response that helps regulate these pathways.1,2 So, what is electroacupuncture?
Electroacupuncture is an extension of this practice, where instead of one needle per treatment area, two needles are placed across the treatment area. An electric current is then applied between the two needles.
How does it work?
Electroacupuncture activates certain biochemicals that help reduce inflammation and pain. Such chemicals include opioids, which decrease the number of cytokines – biological chemicals that promote inflammation.3 Opioid release also desensitizes pain receptors in the peripheral nervous system – the nervous system that excludes the brain and spinal cord.
Other biochemicals released by electroacupuncture are serotonin and norepinephrine. Both decrease pain perception in the central nervous system3 – the segment of the nervous system that includes the brain and spinal cord.
By altering inflammation and pain perception, pain management can be achieved using the electroacupuncture technique.
Electroacupuncture can relieve abdominal pain
Irritable Bowel Syndrome can lead to abdominal pain and sensitivity. One study used rat models to test the effect of electroacupuncture on digestive lining sensitivity. It was found that rats who received had this proceduer had decreased abdominal sensitivity compared to a control group.4
Another study tested the effects of electroacupuncture on post-surgical abdominal pain in people. This study followed 100 women undergoing lower abdominal surgery. Women who received electroacupuncture at either low or high frequencies lasted 28 minutes before needing morphine to help with pain management post-treatment, while in the control groups needed morphine as early as 10 minutes post-treatment, .5
The researchers also reported that women treated with electroacupuncture experienced significantly less nausea and dizziness during the first 24 hours post-surgery compared to the control groups.5
May alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis
A review analyzed 11 studies, each assessing the effectiveness of electroacupuncture on osteoarthritis of the knee. From a total of 695 participants across the 11 studies, electroacupuncture was found to be more effective than pharmacological treatment and traditional acupuncture at alleviating symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.6
Another study administered electroacupuncture to 42 patients with knee osteoarthritis for ten consecutive days. This study reported significant improvement in pain sensation compared to the baseline measurements.7
May reduce stress and improve sleep
A study with 25 medical students exposed to academic burn-out and anxiety were given electroacupuncture or were part of a control group. Those who received the procedure were given treatment for 20 minutes once a week for eight weeks on the face, ear, scalp, and extremities.
There was a significant reduction in stress-related indicators in those who received electroacupuncture compared to those who did not.8 In addition, 75% of the electroacupuncture group exhibited good sleep quality while only 23.1% of those in the control group also had good sleep quality.
Is electroacupuncture right for you?
Electroacupuncture has promising potential to improve joint pain, abdominal pain, stress, and sleep. However, it is best to speak with your doctor to determine if electroacupuncture is right for you.
- Li, N. et al. (2019). A New Perspective of Acupuncture: The Interaction among Three Networks Leads to Neutralization. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine; 2019: 2326867. Doi: 10.1155/2019/2326867.
- Luo M. F., et al. (2013). Study on the dynamic compound structure composed of mast cells, blood vessels, and nerves in rat acupoint. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine;2013:4.160651.
- Zhang, R. et al. (2015). Mechanisms of Acupuncture-Electroacupuncture on Persistent Pain. Anesthesiology; 120(2): 482-503. Doi: 10.1097/ALN.0000000000000101.
- Zhao, M. et al. (2020). Electroacupuncture Improves IBS Visceral Hypersensitivity by Inhibiting the Activation of Astrocytes in the Medial Thalamus and Anterior Cingulate Cortex. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine; 2020. Doi: 10.1155/2020/2562979.
- Lin, J. et al. (2002). The effect of high and low frequency electroacupuncture in pain after lower abdominal surgery. Pain; 99(3): 509-514. Doi: 10.1016/S0304-3959(02)00261-0.
- Chen, N. et al. (2017). Electro-Acupuncture is Beneficial for Knee Osteoarthritis: The Evidence from Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine; 45(5): 965-985. Doi: 10.1142/S0192415X17500513.
- Saputra, K. and T. C. Sutrisno. (2021). Electroacupuncture Treatment in Osteoarthritis Pain of the Knee for Geriatric Patients. Medical Acupuncture; 24(3). Doi: 10.1089/acu.2011.0869.
- Dias, M. et al. (2012). Effects of electroacupuncture on stress-related symptoms in medical students: a randomised controlled pilot study. Acupuncture in Medicine; 30(2): 89-95. Doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2011-010082.
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