Medical electroacupuncture involves the use of acupuncture needles coupled with small amount of electricity to reduce pain. However, the methods we use involve a little more than just that. Black Tie Health™ is the only physician provider of electroacupuncture in the greater Atlanta area.
Also referred to as Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS), combines the use of acupuncture needles with the use of small amounts of electrical current to activate very specific nerves.
When used properly, the activation of these specific nerves can be used strategically to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, relax muscles, and potentially accelerate the healing process.
The underlying principles are nearly identical to the surgically implanted devices used by spinal surgeons and pain physicians. The biggest difference is that electroacupuncture can be done without major surgery and as much or as little to reduce pain.
We're not talking about ancient Chinese medicine (ACM). Although the origination of medical electroacupuncture was undeniably influenced by ACM, electroacupuncture techniques coupled with medical application yields a different approach to treatment of pain. Furthermore, while traditional medicine has yet to accept electroacupuncture as a treatment modality, the vast majority of research and studies done on the subject are largely conducted by organizations dedicated to alternative and complementary treatment modalities.
When using electricity, acupuncture needles, and an in-depth knowledge of human anatomy, the resulting treatment treatment is known a electroacupuncture or Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS). In PENS, advanced knowledge of the nervous system allows us to place acupuncture needles right next to the nerve we wish to stimulate. By stimulating these nerves directly, possible effects include pain relief, muscle stimulation, increased sensation, among others.
How does electroacupuncture work?
Electroacupuncture is thought to cause a release of endorphins in the human body. Endorphins are chemical messengers that our body uses to decrease pain and balance the nervous system. Endorphins are known to decreased pain, decrease anxiety, and promote a feeling of wellness. Some studies suggest that low frequency (2 Hz) electroacupunture and high frequency (100 Hz) electroacupuncture causes the release of enkephalins (a type of endorphin) and dynorphins (another type of endorphin) in animals and in humans. The release of these endorphins can reduce the amount of cytokines (inflammation) circulating in the bloodstream. Electroacupuncture is also thought to alleviate pain through the interaction with cannabinoid receptors (the same pain-relieving methods used by CBD and THC) in the nervous system.
In addition, there have been clinical studies that suggest electroacupuncture may cause an increase in levels of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in the bloodstream.
What conditions can be treated with electroacupuncture?
Electroacupuncture can be used to treat a variety of different conditions on nearly any part of the body. The different techniques and settings for treatment depends entirely on these factors. Some treatments may require more or less electrical current to provide relief. While other treatments may require that the needles be places more shallow or deeper to provide an adequate level of nerve stimulation. Electroacupuncture may provide relief for patients with:
There are too many conditions that may be treated with electroacupuncture to be listed on this page.
What are some of the contraindications of electroacupuncture?
Some of the contraindications of electroacupuncture may include, but are not limited to:
Spinal cord stimulator
Some of these contraindications are relative, meaning they depend on the location of the area being treated and other factors. For example, an ear infection would not likely prevent you from having an electroacupuncture treatment on your foot. However, patients with pacemakers or internal defibrillators should almost never have electroacupuncture applied to areas across or around the chest.
Doesn't electroacupuncture hurt?
Not typically. The needles used are nearly identical to those used for regular acupuncture. They are extremely fine and rarely are even felt. During the procedure, patients may feel a slight electrical sensation as a result of the current, but not enough to cause pain. On average, when done properly, patients feel an immediate decreased in pain as a result of the endorphins released by the procedure.
Also, unlike traditional acupuncture clinics, our office is a professional medical facility. Therefore, we can administer different topical or local numbing agents, if necessary, to minimize any pain.
What are the risks associated with electroacupuncture?
There are risks with any medical procedure, including the risk of bleeding and infection. We always use aseptic techniques with any medical procedure in the office. Most of the risks associated with electroacupuncture can be reduced by following standard medical precautions.
Is electroacupuncture covered by insurance?
It certainly depends on the insurance company and the reason (diagnosis) for treatment. Medicare will cover the cost of electroacupuncture for lower back pain only. If you have private insurance, including Medicare advantage plans, your insurance company may reimburse you for the cost of electroacupuncture treatments.
Does electroacupuncture work?
No medical treatment works 100% of the time. Electroacupuncture works very well for some people, while for others it does nothing. Those who get no long term benefit often see a small reduction or temporary reduction in pain. However, just like any other medical treatment or procedure, electroacupuncture doesn't work for everyone.
There has been a ton of research on acupuncture in the past, but the incorporation of electricity is a relatively new practice. A lot of the research that has been conducted on electroacupuncture has mixed results.
How Electroacupuncture Decreases Pain
A paper published in Anesthesiology in 2014 examined the underlying mechanisms involved in pain reduction with the use of electroacupuncture. The authors concluded that electroacupuncture works slightly different in healthy patients versus patients who were in pain. The paper states that the most effective treatment in alleviating pain due to inflammation and neuropathic pain involved treatment frequencies of 2 Hz to 10 Hz. This frequency range was found to be more effective in pain patients than high frequency treatment at 100 Hz.
Electroacupuncture is thought to alleviate pain by activating receptors in the body. Electroacupuncture is able to stimulate opioid receptors through the use of electricity without the use of actual drugs. Electroacupuncture also stimulates serotonin and norepinephrine receptors without the use of drugs. By stimulating these receptors, electroacupuncture causes a cascade of neurological effects that can be a remarkable addition to over-the-counter medications. These characteristics of electroacupuncture can help patients prevent taking potentially addicting and dangerous opioid medications.
A paper published in Evidenced-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2022 proposed the incorporation of a "reward system" model in the pain-modulating effects of electroacupuncture. This new model attempts to integrate what has recently been learned about the psychological aspects of pain control and adds them to the existing paradigm. In this sense, the effects of electroacupuncture can be seen as acting on the brains reward center, producing both pleasure and pain relief.
Sources and Research on Electroacupuncture
Below is a small selection of research published on electroacupuncture. This selection is in no way considered to be a comprehensive collection of research.
Chan K, Lui L, Lam Y, Yu K, Lau K, Lai M, Lau W, Tai L, Mak C, Bian Z, Zhong LL. Efficacy and safety of electroacupuncture for oxaliplatin-induced peripheral neuropathy in colorectal cancer patients: a single-blinded, randomized, sham-controlled trial. Acupunct Med. 2022 Nov 3:9645284221125421. doi: 10.1177/09645284221125421. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36325677.
Eslamian F, Jahanjoo F, Dolatkhah N, Pishgahi A, Pirani A. Relative Effectiveness of Electroacupuncture and Biofeedback in the Treatment of Neck and Upper Back Myofascial Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2020 May;101(5):770-780. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2019.12.009. Epub 2020 Jan 16. PMID: 31954696.
Lu C, Bao W, Deng D, Li R, Li G, Zou S, Wang Y. Efficacy of electroacupuncture with different frequencies in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: A study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Front Neurol. 2022 Jul 28;13:843886. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2022.843886. PMID: 35968286; PMCID: PMC9366109.
Pan S, Wang S, Xue X, Yuan H, Li J, Liu Y, Yue Z. Multidimensional Pain Modulation by Acupuncture Analgesia: The Reward Effect of Acupuncture on Pain Relief. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2022 Nov 10;2022:3759181. doi: 10.1155/2022/3759181. PMID: 36408345; PMCID: PMC9671730.
Pei LX, Yi Y, Guo J, Chen L, Zhou JY, Wu XL, Sun JH, Chen H. The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture/electroacupuncture for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acupunct Med. 2022 Jun 12:9645284221076512. doi: 10.1177/09645284221076512. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35695033.
Rostock M, Jaroslawski K, Guethlin C, Ludtke R, Schröder S, Bartsch HH. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy in cancer patients: a four-arm randomized trial on the effectiveness of electroacupuncture. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:349653. doi: 10.1155/2013/349653. Epub 2013 Aug 28. PMID: 24066010; PMCID: PMC3771477.
Wang Z, Hou Y, Huang Y, Ju F, Liang Z, Li S. Clinical efficacy and safety of electro-acupuncture combined with beraprost sodium and α-lipoic acid for diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Am J Transl Res. 2022 Jan 15;14(1):612-622. PMID: 35173879; PMCID: PMC8829597.
Wang X, Li Q, Han X, Gong M, Yu Z, Xu B. Electroacupuncture Alleviates Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy by Regulating Glycolipid-Related GLO/AGEs/RAGE Axis. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021 Jul 6;12:655591. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2021.655591. PMID: 34295304; PMCID: PMC8290521.