Study first to confirm acupuncture's effect

November 19, 2001

Previous studies on acupuncture have focused on the ancient art's therapeutic effects, but now - for the first time - there is scientific evidence of the response of body tissue to acupuncture needling. Conducted at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, the two-year study takes a major step towards establishing credibility among Western medical practitioners for the therapy long considered "alternative." A report on the study, titled "Biomechanical response to acupuncture needling in humans," will be featured in the December issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Much of the skepticism about acupuncture stems from the fact that the insertion of hypodermic needles is routine in Western medicine, and is not itself considered to be therapeutic. The key to acupuncture's biomechanical effect, says lead investigator Helene Langevin, M.D., assistant professor of neurology and a licensed acupuncturist, is not the insertion of each ultra-fine acupuncture needle, but its manipulation. No previous research has looked at the effect of the manipulation of the acupuncture needle on the tissue.

During an acupuncture session, each acupuncture needle is manipulated in order to elicit the "de qi" (pronounced "day-chee") response. De qi is traditionally believed to be essential in achieving acupuncture's therapeutic effect. A phenomenon called "needle grasp" is a component of de qi that is often described by acupuncturists as feeling like a fish tugging on a fishing line. When de qi occurs, patients typically experience an aching sensation.

To establish a scientific basis for acupuncture's effect, the Vermont researchers sought to measure the force required to overcome the tissue-needle connection that occurs during needle grasp. Using a unique computer-controlled acupuncture-needling device, Langevin and her colleagues found that a much greater pullout force - 167 percent - was required when the needle was rotated in one direction after insertion than when it was not rotated. When the needle was rotated back and forth, the pullout force was 53 percent greater. This clinical study - which had a total of 60 participants - was the first to measure this effect using an objective methodology.

"We now know that needle manipulation has a measurable biomechanical effect on the tissue," Langevin said. "This effect was present at the control and acupuncture points that we measured, but somewhat more at the acupuncture points." Though previously believed to be a muscle contraction, Langevin's research indicates that layers superficial to the muscle - skin and/or subcutaneous connective tissues - may be involved in the body's response to acupuncture needling. When the needle is pulled back during needle grasp, the biomechanical phenomenon is visibly recognizable as the tissue below the skin maintains its grasp on the needle, causing the skin to "tent."

"Our working hypothesis right now is that the needle grasp is due to connective tissue winding around the needle," said Langevin. "We also think that the needle may come into contact with more connective tissue at the acupuncture points identified in ancient texts. This may explain why the pullout force was slightly greater at those points."

Langevin was also the lead author of a hypothesis paper on research that supplements these findings, titled "Mechanical signaling through connective tissue: a mechanism for the therapeutic effect of acupuncture," which appeared in the October issue of The FASEB Journal. She and her colleagues plan to focus future research on trying to prove that connective tissue is indeed involved in needle grasp.
-end-
Funding for this study was provided by the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In addition to Langevin, the research team included David L. Churchill, Ph.D., Gale Weld and Jason Yandow of the department of neurology; Martin H. Krag, M.D., and James R. Fox, M.S., of the department of orthopaedics and rehabilitation; Gary J. Badger, M.S., of the department of medical biostatistics; and Brian S. Garra, M.D., of the department of radiology.

University of Vermont

Related Acupuncture Articles from Brightsurf:

Nonverbal doctor-patient rapport relieved pain during acupuncture treatment
When 22 acupuncture clinicians and 23 patients seeking pain relief mirrored each other's facial expressions during acupuncture treatment, patients experienced less pain, according to a new study.

Acupuncture before surgery means less pain, significantly fewer opioids for Veterans
Veterans who have acupuncture before surgery report less pain and need far fewer opioids to manage their discomfort, according to a randomized, controlled study being presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2020 annual meeting.

Acupuncture can reduce migraine headaches
Acupuncture can reduce migraine headaches compared to both sham (placebo) acupuncture and usual care, finds a new trial from China published by The BMJ today.

Acupuncture equals disease prevention say new studies
Well-recognized for its therapeutic effects, acupuncture is increasingly being appreciated for its ability to promote wellness and contribute to the prevention of a broad range of conditions.

Acupuncture may ease troublesome menopausal symptoms
A brief course of acupuncture may help to ease troublesome menopausal symptoms, suggests a small study published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Number of veterans affairs facilities offering acupuncture growing rapidly
Acupuncture is an increasingly important and effective component of chronic pain management and other areas of care in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

Fertility study finds acupuncture ineffective for IVF birth rates
A study of over 800 Australian and New Zealand women undergoing acupuncture treatment during their IVF (in vitro fertilization) cycle has confirmed no significant difference in live birth rates.

Acupuncture possible treatment for dental anxiety
Researchers have found evidence that acupuncture could help people who experience dental anxiety.

Harvard scientists ask 'what is the point?' in challenge to acupuncture researchers
The effectiveness of acupuncture compared to standard treatments has led to its growing inclusion in pain guidelines and in delivery organizations like the US military and Veterans Administration, yet many continue to believe acupuncture lacks scientific credibility.

Can acupuncture help alleviate menopausal symptoms?
An umbrella review from Duke Clinical Research Institute that was a comprehensive assessment of previous systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials has found that women who received acupuncture had less frequent and less severe vasomotor symptoms associated with menopause than women who did not have acupuncture.

Read More: Acupuncture News and Acupuncture Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.