Electroacupuncture Releases Stem Cells to Relieve Pain and More, Study Finds

Electroacupuncture Releases Stem Cells to Relieve Pain and More, Study Finds

By Staff

Electroacupuncture triggers a neurological response that releases stem cells that can relieve injury-induced pain, and help promote tissue repair, says a study in the journal Stem Cells led by Indiana University School of Medicine.

The school outlined its findings in a media release:

Electroacupuncture is a form of acupuncture that uses a small electrical current to augment the ancient Chinese medical practice of inserting fine needles into the skin at pre-determined points throughout the body.

For the study, a team of more than 40 scientists at institutions in the United States and South Korea was led by four senior authors including IU School of Medicine’s Maria B. Grant, MD, Marilyn Glick Professor of Ophthalmology and co-corresponding author; Mervin C. Yoder, MD, IU Distinguished Professor, Richard and Pauline Klingler Professor of Pediatrics, associate dean for entrepreneurial research at IU School of Medicine, director of the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research and co-corresponding author; and Fletcher A. White, PhD, Vergil K. Stoelting Chair of Anesthesia, professor of anesthesia, pharmacology and toxicology.

“This work is a classic example of the power of team science, where investigators in different institutions with specific expertise worked together to unravel the complexity of how electroacupuncture works to help the body respond to stressors,” said Dr. Yoder.

The researchers performed a series of lab tests involving humans, horses and rodents that follow the effects of electroacupuncture from the stimulus of the needle all the way to the brain, resulting in the release of reparative mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into the bloodstream.

Depending on the species, electroacupuncture led to activation of the hypothalamus–a part of the brain that controls the nervous system and involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate and digestion–within nine to 22 minutes. The stem cells were mobilized within two hours.

“The acupuncture stimulus we’re giving these animals has a rapid effect on neuroanatomical pathways that connect the stimulus point in the arm to responsive neurons in the spinal cord and into a region in the brain called the hypothalamus. In turn, the hypothalamus directs outgoing signals to stem cell niches resulting in their release,” said Dr. White, who is a neuroscientist at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

The researchers found electroacupuncture treatments resulted in higher thresholds for injury-induced pain, as well as considerable increases in the presence of a type of collagen that promotes tendon repair and anti-inflammatory cells known to be predictors of faster healing time.

Dr. White said these findings could lead to new strategies for tissue repair and pain management related to injuries.

“We could potentially capture the MSCs from an individual’s blood following electroacupuncture and save the cells for future re-introduction in the patient post-surgery or to treat chronic pain due to an injury,” he said.

The horses used in the study had been injured during training for international dressage competitions, and the six people who took part were healthy volunteers, who still showed activation of their hypothalamus through brain imaging.

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Authored by: Staff

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Jean Price

Dr Tall….I also had difficulty being really sore at many of the needle insertion sites…from bruising in over 50% of the needled areas!! My therapist said she had never seen this happen before! I also had some sort of therapy with a type of charcoal cone which was smoldering…and placed at various sites. These started really burning right away…to her shock…and mine, too! And I actually blistered! Again my therapist was amazed…and upset, since this wasn’t a reaction she had seen previously with any patients!! She also had been practicing for a long time! I have been to several different practitioners through the years, with the same bruising issues…only the last time there was a greater percentage! Yet all of the treatments helped some…except I seem to plateau after just a few sessions…plus my pain usually returns as soon as I’m mobile again after a treatment! Really, I just chalked my experience up to the fact I’m like a fragile princess on the outside!! With an equally fragile inner structure!! I routinely do acupressure, with a TheraCane, which seem to help…yet again, the various areas of pain do return with most any type of activity! I think this is sadly the same for many of us! Especially when there are multiple conditions underlying!.

I would likely consider trying this type of therapy, at some point when there is more information on specialically targeting the areas of my problems….and I wish there were more well trained accupuncturist available! And ones specialized in treating long term pain! I believe stem cell and platelet therapies may hold some answers in the future…yet insurance doesn’t cover these, since they can also be used for cosmetic purposes! Sad!

Carla Cheshire

Back in 2002 when I was trying alternatives to find relief from chronic back pain, I visited a chiropractor. I had seen him years earlier and had some success with traditional chiropractic. In Texas they trained Chiropractors in acupuncture, then allowed them to practice it. I laid on the table, face down as he inserted the needles. Then to my surprise they were electrified! OMG, the pain was unbelievable! It was one of the most unpleasant experiences I have ever had. I would never, ever recommend it to anyone. The table probably still has my fingernail marks in it.

Bob Schubring

In light of Sandy Bell-Murray’s comment, my guess is that the needle pokes and electric signal will stimulate the stem cells that cause collagen production, to make more of the same collagen that they usually make. In other words an Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) patient’s collagen is made by these cells and is faulty. So stimulation of the cells to make more of it, probably makes more of the faulty collagen.

But if the stimulation was causing normal collagen to form, it would be quite surprising. That would lead to a new understanding​ of how EDS happens…If (a very big if) abnormal collagen is being made constantly by diseased cells, but there are healthy cells that when stimulated, make normal collagen (and the rest of the time make nothing, just waiting for an order), then the abnormal collagen that causes EDS is going to be less of a problem. Curing EDS would require a new drug to shut the diseased cells off…but being able to dilute the faulty collagen with normal collagen would slow the disease down quickly.

It would be worth trying the experiment on a volunteer with EDS to see what happens. The result might be disappointing, but that’s research.


I was hopeful initially I’d get relief. But as I read on I realized it doesn’t apply to Herniated disks and spinal stenosis, and degenerative disk disease with some arthritis which I suffer from.
Pain meds make me wierd and crazy feeling but the pain is worse. Sometimes death seems a better option, but I’m not ready to make that decision. Lynn

Interesting. I’m surprised to see any studies done using non-traditional medicine. This sounds like a promisiing find.

Dr Joann Tall

In regards to connie’s comments- i have been an acupuncturist for over 40 years; i don’t know where she got her acupuncture but acupuncture doesn’t leave any soreness at all where the needle is placed! Electroacupuncture should not be painful when done properly ; actually it gives you a feeling of relaxation and calm. I have used electroacupuncture and acupuncture for pain and injury for years but this research is so encouraging.

Tim Mason

Humm. Pediatrics, They still do not use anesthesia for male circumcision. This says a lot about their knowledge of pain and when to use anesthesia.


Fantastic story and yes there are some of us who would do shock like therapy if it would lead to any reduction in pain
Pain has taken over the show here. I tiptoe around it waiting for the next assault. It’s moved from my back (2 cervical spine surgeries and years of injections ) to my hands and feet…and now something nasty is growing. It is very painful and must be right on top on a nerve. I can’t tell if it’s fungal or something autoimmune. Waiting on blood tests and hoping for diagnosis and help. I would take that electropuncture today if it would make it stop. Like someone banging hand with hammer and then squeezing like vise. Anyone else have this?

Nahjla O'Neil

This sounds awesome! Do you think it may help patients like me suffering from chronic pain due to chronic Lyme Disease? Thank you & continued success!


I think I will pass on this one. Plain acupuncture leaves a sore where each needle is placed, I can only imagine what adding electric shock would do! I realize that many people have good results with acupuncture but I wouldn’t want the powers that be to add this to their one size fits all treatments!

Sandy Bell-Murray

This certainly is encouraging! I wonder what impact this treatment may have for individuals with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome who have chronic pain due to faulty collagen?