Electroacupuncture: A Guide for Patients

Electroacupuncture was believed to be developed by Japanese scientists in the 1940’s who were interested in making bone fractures heal more quickly. It is a term used to describe the application of mild electrical stimulation through thin, hair-like acupuncture needles. It is based on the same principals of regulat acupuncture, that a person’s qi (energy/life force) runs through the meridians of the body and the acupuncture points correspond with them. Electroacupuncture is an increasingly popular form of treatment proving itself to be a game-changer in the treatment of many conditions.

Electroacupuncture – How does it work?

            Electroacupuncture is used to treat a wide variety of conditions. The strength and style of electrical stimulation to the needles depends on the condition. In this form of acupuncture instead of using one hair-thin needle at the acupuncture point, there are two and the mild electrical current is passed between them. Doing this allows for more stimulation of the point than twirling or hand manipulation techniques that your acupuncturist may use.

The conditions this modality can treat, just like standard acupuncture, is truly limitless. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), your health is contingent on the flow of qi and balance in the body, and a blockage of qi can bring about emotional & physical issues.

Some conditions that typically use electroacupuncture:

  • Addiction

  • Arthritis

  • Chronic pain

  • Stress

  • Arthritis

  • Chemotherapy-related nausea

  • Tinnitus

  • Neurological diseases

  • Spasms

  • Sports injuries

There are three different waves to choose for electrical pulsation.  Your acupuncture provider will determine which wave type is best suited for your condition.  

These three waves of electrical pulsation are:

  • Continuous – often used to treat acute postoperative pain such as muscle pain or joint pain. In this pulsation, it can only be used for a short period of time as it could produce too strong stimulation and interfere with a patient’s needling sensation.

  • Tense & disperse – often used to treat neurological pain as well as acute and chronic nerve pain. This includes nerve damage, poor function of the nervous system, and inflammation.

  • Intermittent – this pulsation is often used to treat pain. If longer stimulation is needed with any condition, intermittent electric pulsation would be the best choice.

Your licensed acupuncturist will be able to tell you if they feel electrical stimulation is warranted for your condition or not. The average treatment length of electroacupuncture is 10-20 minutes. Basically, it’s like someone tapping/stimulating the needle constantly for the duration of the treatment in a way that cannot be achieved with human hands.

Another benefit of electroacupuncture is the boost of endorphin release.  Acupuncture releases endorphins during sessions, but with low frequency electroacupuncture there is a greater output. The endorphins stay in your bloodstream longer therefore providing an extended period of pain relief. Not to mention the neutrons traveling in the body can also provide better wound and tissue repair.

Electroacupuncture Research

            We stated above that electroacupuncture, just like standard acupuncture, can treat just about any condition. In recent years there has been further proof of this with study after study showing its benefits.

Electroacupuncture Combined with Methadone Maintenance Therapy:

  • This study took place in 2019, patients that participated in this study underwent methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) at a psychiatric clinic. Patients were diagnosed as having opioid addiction and received MMT for more than 30 days. A total of 106 patients participated in the study, and were able to choose whether to undergo electroacupuncture.

  • The treatment group was composed of those who chose to undergo electroacupuncture (76 patients), and the rest who chose not to use electroacupuncture, the control group (30 patients). The treatment group received 15 minutes of electroacupuncture twice weekly for 4 weeks.

  • The results of this study show an improvement in quality of life, and opioid abstinence. Researchers also regarded electroacupuncture as a safe, nonpharmacological intervention for raising opioid abstinence.

Electroacupuncture ST36 Tumor Reduction in Cervical Cancer:

  • This was a randomized experimental clinical study evaluating patient’s tumor sizes after electroacupuncture (EA). Patients were divided into two groups, those that received only chemotherapy, and those that received both chemotherapy and electroacupuncture. Those in the EA group received EA one day on bilateral ST36 after each chemotherapy cycle.
  • Results of this study showed those in the treatment group had a significant decrease in tumor size compared to the control group. Researchers also noticed an increase in appetite in the treatment group compared to the control group.

Electroacupuncture on Anxiety & Depression in Patients with PCOS:

  • The goal of this study was to evaluate the efficiency of electroacupuncture (EA) for treating anxiety & depression in unmarried patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

  • Patient who were assigned to the acupuncture groups received EA for 16 weeks, and the control group received sham acupuncture for 16 weeks.  Twenty-7 patients were in each group.

  • After the 16 weeks, EA appears to show improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms. It was also noted there was a quality of life improvement in PCOS patients.

Electroacupuncture on Persistent Pain:

  • In this, a review was done on various animal models used to study the effects of electroacupuncture (EA) on persistent pain. Inflammatory, neuropathic, cancer, and visceral pain were tested.

  • Results show that EA considerably relieved inflammatory, cancer, neuropathic, and visceral pain in the animal models. Researchers also note that EA produced longer lasting alleviation of inflammatory pain.

Clearly, there is something to be said about the effects of electroacupuncture on multiple conditions. All of these studies were in the last 3 years, and there are worlds more out there to be looked at. The amount of positive findings can only be more in depth and increase from here.

Electroacupuncture Treatment

            Acupuncture as a treatment modality has been well known to effectively treat various conditions, reduce stress, and improve the quality of life in its patients. Electroacupuncture coming into fruition took acupuncture treatment and amped it up in the best of ways. There was even a recent analysis done stating that electroacupuncture triggers a release of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into the bloodstream.

Another stating use of electroacupuncture had the most effect on alleviating chronic pain of knee osteoarthritis patients. This treatment modality truly enhances ones results of a traditional acupuncture treatment. If it sounds like something that may benefit you, always discuss it with your licensed acupuncturist at your consultation or appointment to determine if it is right for you, and what type of individualized treatment can be offered. Acupuncture and electroacupuncture is on the rise, and it’s easy to see why.

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