Two articles on PainSci cite Chae 2015: 1. Do You Believe in Qi? 2. Does Acupuncture Work for Pain?
PainSci commentary on Chae 2015: ?This page is one of thousands in the PainScience.com bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.
In this study, subjects had their brains scanned while acupuncture was performed on a “phantom limb,” by tricking the brain into perceiving a rubber hand as if it was real (a well-established technique). In this scenario, the needling cannot possibly cause a biological response. And even if people have qi flowing in meridians, clearly rubber hands do not. And so this experiment neatly eliminates two of the major common explanations for how acupuncture might work.
The results identified the same kind of perceptions and brain activity that previous studies have found with needling of genuine limbs. This (strongly) suggests that the explanation for any perceived benefit of acupuncture is psychological: the brain is responding to the idea of needling. Real needling not required to elicit the same response that has been touted as a specific therapeutic effect. If true, belief is the active ingredient in acupuncture, not the manipulation of qi, or obscure biological effects.
This result is perfectly consistent with the skeptical position on acupuncture.
Dr. Steven Novella wrote a much more detailed analysis of this study: “Phantom Acupuncture.”
~ Paul Ingraham
original abstract †Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.
From a neuroscientific perspective, the sensations induced by acupuncture are not only the product of the bottom-up modulation of simple needling at somatosensory receptors, but also of the reciprocal interaction of top-down modulation from the brain. The present study investigated whether acupuncture stimulation to incorporated body parts produces brain responses that are similar to the responses observed following acupuncture stimulation to the real hand. The present study included 17 participants who watched a rubber hand being synchronously stroked with their unseen left hand to induce incorporation of the rubber hand into their body. After the experimental modification of body ownership, acupuncture needle stimulation was applied to the LI4 acupoint on the incorporated rubber hand while brain activity was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). When the rubber hand was fully incorporated with the real body, acupuncture stimulation to the rubber hand resulted in the experience of the DeQi sensation as well as brain activations in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), insula, secondary somatosensory cortex (SII), and medial temporal (MT) visual area. The insular activation was associated with the DeQi sensation from the rubber hand. The psychophysical and neurophysiological responses associated with acupuncture stimulation to the incorporated rubber hand were influenced by an enhanced bodily awareness of the hand, which was likely due to top-down modulation from the interoceptive system in the brain.
Specifically regarding Chae 2015:
This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:
- Photobiomodulation therapy is not better than placebo in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Guimarães 2021 Pain.
- No effect of creatine monohydrate supplementation on inflammatory and cartilage degradation biomarkers in individuals with knee osteoarthritis. Cornish 2018 Nutr Res.
- The CANBACK trial: a randomised, controlled clinical trial of oral cannabidiol for people presenting to the emergency department with acute low back pain. Bebee 2021 Med J Aust.
- Relationships Between Sleep Quality and Pain-Related Factors for People with Chronic Low Back Pain: Tests of Reciprocal and Time of Day Effects. Gerhart 2017 Ann Behav Med.
- Modulation in the elastic properties of gastrocnemius muscle heads in individuals with plantar fasciitis and its relationship with pain. Zhou 2020 Sci Rep.