Acupuncture can work against acute pain, such as following surgery. Two review papers reveal that acupuncture applied at certain times following an operation can achieve a moderate reduction in pain. According to Dr. Winfried Meissner, "The same goes for ear acupuncture, whereby patients sometimes subjectively do not notice immediate pain reduction, but verifiably require fewer additional analgesics. A role is certainly played by nonspecific or placebo effects, as for example the presence of a therapist or the expectations of patients. However, our own studies show that acupuncture, even in patients under narcosis where no placebo effect can come into play, produces similar effects in the brain as pain relievers.”
Another study that assessed the extent of the placebo effect in acupuncture studies opens up entirely new opportunities for research. Researchers discovered that part of the placebo phenomena on the overall effect of acupuncture is potentially greater than the specific effect. Previous studies have already found placebo-acupuncture to be more effective than placebo tablets. Most studies treated patients in placebo control groups by inserting needles into parts of the body that were not acupuncture points, however the simple act of inserting also produced physiological effects. Newer studies instead started using non-penetrating telescopic blunt needles for control purposes that produce the same feeling as a ‘real’ needle.
Dr. Konrad Streitberger explains, "Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that real acupuncture not only causes stronger activation or deactivation response patterns than placebo treatment in pain associated areas of the brain, but also that this effect can be modulated by a positive expectation. This shows that different mechanisms are at work in acupuncture whose complex relationships we do not fully understand and that will still require extensive research."%u2028
Acupressure works in a similar fashion to acupuncture but does not employ needles. Instead it is applied through the use of finger pressure onto reflex points that lie directly within the area of pain or slightly outside. A new study presented by a Japanese research group revealed that both acupuncture and acupressure greatly reduced chronic neck pain. Treating reflex points in pain areas can also achieve a positive impact on the autonomic nervous system as it calms the heart rate and increases heart rate variability. Both are clear indicators of an organism’s adaptability to changing external conditions.