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Acupuncture Analgesia: I. The Scientific Basis

Section Editor(s): Liu, Spencer S.Wang, Shu-Ming MD*; Kain, Zeev N. MD, MBA†‡; White, Paul PhD, MD§

doi: 10.1213/01.ane.0000277493.42335.7b
Analgesia: Pain Medicine: Review Article

Acupuncture has been used in China and other Asian countries for the past 3000 yr. Recently, this technique has been gaining increased popularity among physicians and patients in the United States. Even though acupuncture-induced analgesia is being used in many pain management programs in the United States, the mechanism of action remains unclear. Studies suggest that acupuncture and related techniques trigger a sequence of events that include the release of neurotransmitters, endogenous opioid-like substances, and activation of c-fos within the central nervous system. Recent developments in central nervous system imaging techniques allow scientists to better evaluate the chain of events that occur after acupuncture-induced stimulation. In this review article we examine current biophysiological and imaging studies that explore the mechanisms of acupuncture analgesia.

From the Departments of *Anesthesiology, †Pediatrics and ‡Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The Center for Advancement of Perioperative Health, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut; and §Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Management, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas.

Accepted for publication May 22, 2007.

Dr. Paul F. White, Section Editor for Special Projects, was recused from all editorial decesions related to this manuscript.

Supported by the National Institutes of Health, NCCAM, R21AT001613-02 (to S.M.W.), and NICHD, R01HD37007-02 (to Z.N.K.), Bethesda, MD. Margaret Milam McDermott Distinguish Chair of Anesthesiology and the President of the White Mountain Institute, a not-for profit private foundation (to P.F.W.).

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Shu-Ming Wang, MD, Department of Anesthesiology, Yale School of Medicine, 333 Cedar St., New Haven, CT 06510. Address e-mail to

© 2008 International Anesthesia Research Society