Sceptics dismiss it as a placebo, but acupuncture really can reduce pain, and scientists have used brain scanners to prove it.

Acupuncture needles affect the way the brain perceives and processes pain, say researchers from University Hospital in Essen, Germany.

They tested acupuncture’s pain-relieving capabilities on a group of 18 volunteers, who had an electrical device attached to their ankles. They had brain scans when they had acupuncture needles placed in three areas, and when the needles were removed. All the time the device was causing pain and discomfort.

Areas of the brain that process pain had changed significantly when the acupuncture needles were inserted, the scientists discovered.

(Source: Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, Chicago, November 30, 2010).

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