From the Center for Integrative Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland (R.Z., L.L., and B.M.B.); and Department of Neural and Pain Sciences, Dental School, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland (K.R.).
In the last decade, preclinical investigations of electroacupuncture mechanisms on persistent tissue injury (inflammatory), nerve injury (neuropathic), cancer, and visceral pain have increased. These studies show that electroacupuncture activates the nervous system differently in health than in pain conditions, alleviates both sensory and affective inflammatory pain, and inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain more effectively at 2 to 10 Hz than at 100 Hz. Electroacupuncture blocks pain by activating a variety of bioactive chemicals through peripheral, spinal, and supraspinal mechanisms. These include opioids, which desensitize peripheral nociceptors and reduce proinflammatory cytokines peripherally and in the spinal cord, and serotonin and norepinephrine, which decrease spinal N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor subunit GluN1 phosphorylation. Additional studies suggest that electroacupuncture, when combined with low dosages of conventional analgesics, provides effective pain management which can forestall the side effects of often-debilitating pharmaceuticals.