Acupuncture neuroimaging studies

Acupuncture is a treatment modality that is growing in popularity in the UK, and our neuroimaging research has contributed to our understanding of how acupuncture might work. In parallel, a number of recent high quality trials have provided evidence of clinical effectiveness, and in some cases cost-effectiveness, for a range of conditions, especially those associated with pain. Despite this growing body of evidence, there are many sceptics who would like “objective” evidence of acupuncture’s impact on biological correlates. One new area of research where such “objective” evidence has now become possible is in the mapping of the effect of acupuncture on regionally specific structures within the brain. Such specific and quantifiable data extends the evidence base for the mechanisms underlying acupuncture, and potentially contributes to explanations of its clinical impact.

Working in collaboration with researchers from the York Neuroimaging Centre, we conducted the following studies:

Study 1: We explored the impact of needling at two depths, at the classical acupuncture point Hegu (LI-4), on brain images as recorded by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Study 2: We explored the impact of the deqi sensation that acupuncturists associate with therapeutic benefits, on brain images as recorded by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Study 3: We explored the impact of needling at the classical acupuncture point Hegu (LI-4) on brain images as recorded by magneto-encephalography (MEG).

Health Services Policy Research in the Department of Health Sciences