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A 2,000 year-old technique may hold the key to acupuncture's therapeutic effect
A new study establishes a link between needle manipulation and biomechanical effects
Bethesda, MD -- Western medical experts have been inherently skeptical of acupuncture's therapeutic value for the treatment of pain and other medical conditions. One reason is that it seems very unlikely that the simple act of inserting fine needles into tissue could elicit any effect at all, let alone wide-ranging and long-lasting therapeutic effects. Acupuncture needles are of a finer gauge than even the finest hypodermic needles (not considered therapeutic); acupuncture rarely results in a single drop of blood being discharged.
What skeptics are not aware of is that acupuncture typically involves manual needle manipulation after needle insertion. Manual needle manipulation consists of rapidly rotating (back-and-forth or one direction) and/or pistoning (up-and-down motion) of the needle. The manipulation can be brief (a few seconds), prolonged (several minutes), or intermittent depending on the clinical situation. Manipulation occurs even when electrical stimulation is used (a relatively recent development in the history of acupuncture).
Traditionally, manipulation is performed to elicit the characteristic reaction to acupuncture needling known as "de qi." De qi has a sensory component, known as "needle grasp," which is perceived by the patient as an ache or heaviness in the area surrounding the needle and a simultaneously occurring biomechanical component that can be perceived by the acupuncturist. During needle grasp, the acupuncturist feels as if the tissue is grasping the needle such that there is increased resistance to further motion of the manipulated needle. This "tug" on the needle is classically described as "like a fish biting on a fishing line."