An acupuncture treatment can reduce pain sensitivity in patients with chronic whiplash associated disorders (WAD). But it has been hypothesized that many of the experimental results in acupuncture research could be interpreted as stress-induced analgesia.
Acupuncture is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine and can be defined as the insertion of needles into the skin and underlying tissues at particular sites of the body (known as acupuncture points) to treat patients’ symptoms or diseases or as part of preventive medicine practices. Acupuncture is most commonly used to treat chronic pain, including chronic whiplash pain.
Our study group (Pain in Motion) aimed at examining whether acupuncture has an effect on the autonomic nervous system response in patients with chronic WAD and if this response is related to the pain inhibition after an acupuncture session.
Following one acupuncture treatment session, there was a significant change for two parameters: the heart rate was slightly reduced and the skin conductance was raised. Comparing the effects of acupuncture and relaxation, no differences were found with respect to the change in any of the autonomic parameters. Further, the reduction in pain sensitivity in response to acupuncture treatment was unrelated to any of the changes in autonomic measurements.
In patients with chronic WAD, in response to a single treatment session no acupuncture specific effects on the autonomic response to pain assessment were present and the analgesia after one session of acupuncture is not caused by stress induced analgesia but is more likely the result of an acupuncture specific reaction.
2018 Pain in Motion
References and further reading:
De Kooning M et al. Acupuncture-Analgesia Following a Single Treatment Session in Chronic Whiplash is Unrelated to Autonomic Nervous System Changes: A Randomized Cross-over Trial. Pain Physician 2015 Nov;18(6):527-36.