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Pain Relief: Acupuncture and Electrical Stimulation

Updated on May 3, 2009

Pain is a natural feeling that is usually caused as a result of an injury or infection. It is a signal to the body that something is wrong and initiates a number of responses to help deal with this pain.

In most cases the pain goes away after a period of time, typically due to the body healing or the use of medication. This type of pain is called acute pain. However, when the pain is constant and does not go away, despite the injury healing or even in some cases in the absence of an injury, the pain is referred to as chronic pain.


There are a number of ways to treat both chronic and acute pain, but perhaps one of the most controversial methods is the practice of acupuncture.

Acupuncture is a very old Chinese technique that dates back over two thousand years. Very small needles are inserted into specific points on the body, with the intention of providing pain relief. The effectiveness of acupuncture is often debated, with some claiming that it provides pain relief for hours or even days at a time. Electroacupuncture, in which electrical impulses are sent through the needles has also been used.

Some scientists advocate the use and effectiveness of acupuncture, but say it is not so much due to the specific points used by the traditional Chinese acupuncturists. Instead they propose that the pain relief is caused by the proximity of the needles to the pain. They submit that this releases endorphins, which are a special pain blocking hormone that is produced by the human body.

Most doctors agree that more research is needed in acupuncture, to determine its effectiveness.

Electrical Stimulation

Electrical stimulation is another technique used to deal with chronic pain. A brief electrical pulse is applied to nerve endings just under the skin has been shown to work with some chronic pain sufferers. This technique is referred to as Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation(TENS) and is typically preformed around where the pain occurs. The frequency of the electrical pulse and the voltage used are very important.

Brain Stimulation

Another type o electrical stimulation is brain stimulation. In brain stimulation, electrodes are surgically implanted on the brain. Electrical impulses, which are controlled by the patient, are sent to the electrodes. The electrodes are implanted at areas that have a high number of opiate receptors and are known to contain endorphins.

This procedure, which is referred to as stimulation produced analgesia(SPA,) is very expensive and requires brain surgery, so there are a number of health risks.

SPA is reported to be very effective and patients describe the pain as simply melts away. It is also reported to be effect only a very specif area, so patients do not report a clouded head, such as would occur from taking a pain medication such as morphine.


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