Rotating Acupuncture Needles Works Better than Just Sticking Them In
The Deqi Sensation
A common myth among patients is that acupuncturists merely stick acupuncture needles into patients, and that’s it. They seem caught by surprised by the fact that in Chinese acupuncture, there is a need to manipulate the needle to elicit what we call the “deqi” sensation. Deqi literally means “acquiring qi” or “arrival of qi” and is characterized by a dull, heavy, electric, or distending feeling that can propagate along the meridians or channels.
Science has previously shown that this feeling is the result of stimulation of specific nerve fibers that trigger reactions in the spinal cord and upper brain.
The question is: is this sensation necessary? Are the extra manipulations of the needle to elicit this more than just show? One study seems to say yes.
Rotating Acupuncture Needles
The study is entitled “Effect of bidirectional rotation of an acupuncture needle at LI10 on acupuncture needle sensation and experimentally-induced contact heat pain in healthy human volunteers.” by Benham and Johnson. It is to be published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine: Journal of the British Acupuncture Society. (link)
The goal of the study was to compare whether rotating a needle caused acupuncture pain relief to be significantly increased as opposed to not rotating a needle. The point chosen was LI 10, Shousanli, which I myself like to use just for what I call “grounding” purposes – inserting a needle to balance needles put into the lower leg of the opposite side, but I digress.
Here is the procedure:
Twenty-two healthy participants received one acupuncture needle at LI10 with bidirectional rotation of the needle in one experimental session and one acupuncture needle at LI10 with mock rotation in a separate session, in a randomised order. Measurements of heat pain thresholds were taken before needle insertion, during needle retention and 15 min after needle removal. At each measurement time point, participants rated needle sensations using the Massachusetts Acupuncture Sensation Scale (MASS) and a visual analogue scale (VAS) of overall intensity of needle sensation.
The study concluded that, while the difference was small, there indeed is a significant difference in the tolerance of heat sensation. Rotating the needle to achieve the deqi sensation increases the patient’s ability to endure pain.