For most Americans, pain is becoming a way of life. A survey released by the Merck Corporation this April, for example, revealed that as many as nine out of 10 Americans suffer some sort of pain on a monthly or more frequent basis.1
One of the most interesting statistics to come from the Merck survey revealed that seven percent of American adults suffer from abdominal pain on a daily or near-daily basis. Not surprisingly, most patients are not satisfied with the way their doctor manages their pain; only 42% of those surveyed believe their doctor "completely understands" how they feel.
As the incidence of pain continues to rise, more people are turning to less traditional forms of care to ease their suffering. One therapy that has captured the public's attention over the last few years is acupuncture, which has been shown to provide considerable pain relief for a variety of conditions.
In a study published in the February issue of the Journal of Chinese Medicine,2 professors Shi Yanhua and Yi Sumei of the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine performed scalp acupuncture on 86 patients with abdominal and epigastric pain. The researchers found the technique to be overwhelmingly effective in treating not only stomach pain, but also pain related to urinary obstructions, liver and gallbladder disorders, and gynecological conditions.
All 86 patients (35 male, 51 female) were treated at one of several teaching hospitals at Nanjing University. Forty patients had previously been treated unsuccessfully with drugs or other methods to relieve pain. Patients were categorized into six groups depending on their type of pain:
- Epigastric pain (15)
- Liver and gall bladder disorder (20)
- Gynaecological pain (16)
- Pain from stones in the urinary tract (14)
- Intestinal pain (16)
- Other causes (5)
The leg motor-sensory area, an area approximately three centimeters long and one centimeter lateral to the midpoint of the midline of the head, was selected as the main reference point. Secondary points were chosen depending on the type of pain the patient experienced.
Treatment was given bilaterally. After determining the points to be stimulated, a filiform needle (40mm long, .38mm in diameter) was inserted into the scalp at a 15 degree angle, then inserted horizontally to its full depth. The needle was twisted between the thumb and index finger for 15 rotations at a frequency of 180-200 rotations per minute, lifted and thrust once, rotated another 15 times, then lifted and thrust again. Between 3-5 sequences of rotation, lifting and thrusting were performed during one course of treatment.
After applying acupuncture, the authors measured the outcome of the procedure using the following criteria:
- "Marked" results: relief or disappearance of pain and accompanying symptoms in 5-10 minutes; and no reoccurrence within two days of treatment.
- "Effective" results: alleviation of pain and its accompanying symptoms in 30 minutes; pronounced relief for two days after treatment.
- "Poor" results: alleviation of pain and accompanying symptoms after treatment, but a severe attack of pain within two days.
Scalp acupuncture was found to provide either "marked" or "effective" results in 82 cases, including all 30 cases of urinary or gynecological pain. Only four cases produced ineffective results.
Table I: results of scalp acupuncture on patients with epigastric and abdominal pain.
|Category of Pain||Number of Patients||Marked Results||Effective Results||Poor Results|
|Liver / gallbladder||20||8||11||1|
Based on their outcomes, the researchers concluded: "Analgesia with scalp acupuncture usually brings about remarkable results with just a few needles. It can relieve pain immediately, and it will not affect any other treatment of the primary disease."
- Pain in America. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Corporation, April 2000.
- Yanhua S, Sumei Y. The treatment of 86 cases of epigastric and abdominal pain by scalp acupuncture. Journal of Chinese Medicine February 2000;62:27-29.