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Different mechanisms of contralateral- or ipsilateral-acupuncture to modulate the brain activity in patients with unilateral chronic shoulder pain: a pilot fMRI study

Authors Zhang S, Wang X, Yan CQ, Hu SQ, Huo JW, Wang ZY, Zhou P, Liu CH, Liu CZ

Received 26 September 2017

Accepted for publication 4 January 2018

Published 7 March 2018 Volume 2018:11 Pages 505—514


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Katherine Hanlon

Shuai Zhang,1,* Xu Wang,2,* Chao-Qun Yan,1 Shang-Qing Hu,3 Jian-Wei Huo,4 Zhong-Yan Wang,4 Ping Zhou,1 Chun-Hong Liu,1 Cun-Zhi Liu3

1Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine affiliated to Capital Medical University, Dongcheng District, Beijing, 2School of Life Sciences, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 3Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Dongfang Hospital, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Fengtai District, Beijing, 4Department of Medical Imaging, Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine affiliated to Capital Medical University, Dongcheng District, Beijing, People’s Republic of China

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Background: Chronic shoulder pain (CSP) is a common disease causing pain and functional limitation, which is highly prevalent and has substantial negative effects on the quality of life. Acupuncture has gained popularity and has been accepted gradually by many countries because it can successfully treat patients with chronic pain, but the specific brain mechanisms under acupuncture treatment for CSP remain unclear. Therefore, in this study, we aimed to 1) compare the clinical effects between acupuncture at the contralateral and ipsilateral Tiaokou (ST 38) point in patients with unilateral shoulder pain and 2) explore how contralateral- and ipsilateral-acupuncture modulates the regional homogeneity (ReHo) of patients with CSP.
Patients and methods: This was a pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) trial. Twenty-four patients with CSP were recruited and randomized to the contralateral acupuncture group (contra-group) and the ipsilateral acupuncture group (ipsi-group). All patients completed resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans before and after acupuncture treatment. Shoulder pain intensity (visual analog scale [VAS]) and shoulder joint function (Constant–Murley score [CMS]) were used to evaluate clinical efficiency of treatment. ReHo was used to assess resting-state brain activity.
Results: We found clinical improvement in decreasing pain intensity and increasing shoulder function in both groups, and the mean objective shoulder functional improvement in contra-group was better than that in ipsi-group (p = 0.010). Interestingly, the brain mechanism of contra-acupuncture at ST 38 was distinguishable from ipsi-acupuncture regarding ReHo values.
Conclusion: Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) may play a direct role in the regulation of brain by the contralateral acupuncture at ST 38 in patients with shoulder pain. On the contrary, the pathway of brainstem-thalamus-cortex may be likely to work in mechanism of acupuncture at ipsilateral ST 38.
Significance: Our results indicate that the clinical effects and brain mechanisms are different between the stimulation given at contralateral and ipsilateral acupoints in patients with CSP and imply that the selection of either contralateral or ipsilateral acupuncture therapy to treat some chronic pain conditions is necessary.

region homogeneity, anterior cingulate cortex, brainstem, resting-state fMRI, ST 38

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