Acupuncture as the Anesthetic

by Sydney Walker on October 30th, 2011

Description of a Documented Procedure Using Acupuncture as the Anesthetic.                       Sydney Walker, L.AC. 10/30/11

I found a useful, very readable description of a procedure on the website  The author of the description appears to be Al Stone, as he is shown in the photo on the page without he descriptions. He tells of his experience studying with Dr. Wen, the hospital anesthesiologist at the Yunnan  Province Hospital of TCM, Kunming, China. Dr. Wen is trained in Western methods of anesthesia as well as acupuncture anesthesia. The hospital uses western and traditional Chinese medicine. There are two descriptions of the procedures and points used. This was written prior to 1988.
The description of the first is below:

“A woman in her 60′s presented with a fractured ulnar olecranon. The surgery would include the placing of some nails and other hardware into her olecranon to fasten it more securely to the shaft of the ulna.
Due to her advanced years, it was decided that acupuncture anesthesia would be used instead of Western drugs to avoid any possible adverse reactions.
One half hour before the surgery, while the prep was taking place, we inserted two needles into the patient. One, at Heart 1, and the other at Large Intestine 17. The reasoning for this was to over stimulate the brachial nerve. These two locations are on either side of this nerve and with the additional of electro-stim, we could stimulate the nerve into submission.
Neither needle was inserted too deeply. Just enough to tape down to the patient and get the electro-stim leads securely fastened. Heart one, was taped down along the anterior cubital crease since there would be a certain amount of movement in the arm during the prep for the surgery. Large Intestine 17 was also taped down, though its placement was really designed for the patient’s comfort rather than any other consideration.
The electro-stim began at 100 Hz at a somewhat low setting of amplitude (or “strength”). The patient could feel the tapping of her muscles, but we didn’t really go much further than that. Immediately, there was an anesthesia reaction in her arm. This being tested with a neurological testing needle. This setting didn’t change for the half hour prior to the surgery. The idea being at this point to simply stimulate the body into secreting endorphins. We’re really not yet trying to over accommodate the nerve, even though that is exactly what happened.
Once the surgery began, the patient complained of some discomfort and we turned the strength of the electro-stim up from “1″ to “2″. The idea isn’t to double the amplitude, but to simply turn it up to induce the anesthetic response of the nerve being effected.
We also turned down the frequency form 100 Hz to 50 Hz. The reasoning being that altering the frequency would prevent the nerve from getting used to the stimulation and thus ignoring it.
The controls didn’t once change after the surgery began. The surgery lasted about 45 minutes and went off without a hitch. After the cut was sutured and the nurses were cleaning up the patient, we removed the needles. The patient was in good spirits.” ( )
The second description was similar to the first only involving the patellar ligament. but I found this part interesting:

“A man in his thirties was to have his knee cap repositioned. One of the tendons holding the knee cap in place had been damaged and so the knee cap had descended to below where it should normally be due to the other muscles pulling it out of position. Acupuncture anesthesia was chosen for this surgery. No drugs were employed.
One half hour prior to the surgery, Spleen 11 and Liver 10 were needled on the leg in question. These two points were attached to an electro-stim machine and we slowly turned up the voltage until there was muscle contraction. Then we rolled back the voltage to just below that point. The stimulation was constant at 100hz.
The needles’ handles were bent to be taped down with surgical tape.
Other points used, also on the same side as the surgery, were Pericardium 6 and Large intestine 4. Again, they were taped down and attached to an electro-stim machine.
The two points on the leg were used mostly to stimulate the tibial nerve, which is the one that would be most effected by the surgery. The two points on the arm had a dual purpose of adding additional endorphin release, as well as calming the Shen (spirit, anxiety), which means calming the patient’s emotional experience of the surgery.”

In acupuncture school, I had learned of acupuncture anesthesia and the use of electric stimulation, but we hadn’t used it in practice. I have used Lgi 4 myself to assist in reducing pain in my own and my children’s dental procedures.  It was interesting to see that points in the above cases were chosen because of their location to the nerves involved and to overstimulate them. In the second case he describes using P6 and Lgi 4 for the larger reasons relating to the person’s experience of endorphin release and calming the Shen.  It was interesting to me that they are using same side local and distal treatments.

It was interesting that in these two cases, electro-stimulation acupuncture alone was used as the anesthetic.
Another interesting point I found by Narda G. Robinson, DO, DVM, MS, 2007 was that ” acupuncture must begin at least twenty to thirty minutes before surgery, in order to provide enough time for analgesia to become maximally effective.” That may be useful knowledge for us in using points for analgesic effect in facial acupuncture.
This article also had an interesting account of ” a 1999 study reported in Human Reproduction demonstrated that, when either electroacupuncture or alfentanil were combined with a paracervical block, electroacupuncture was as good an anesthetic method as intravenous alfentanil (a narcotic analgesic) during oocyte aspiration in in-vitro fertilization procedures. Dr. Robindon assert that most anesthesiologists are using acupuncture in combination with western medications, but that there is still a useful role for acupuncture.

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