Acupuncture/ pressurePain

For pain control, must the acupuncture needle penetrate the skin?

acupuncture circleNot in this study, according to researchers in Japan.

First, the details.

  • 56 healthy volunteers were assigned to receive acupuncture using a penetrating and non-penetrating needle.
    • The needle remained in place for 20 minutes.
  • A no treatment (control) was used for comparison.
  • Each person received painful 1-minute electrical stimulation in the forearm.
  • The response to the needling was measured before treatment and at various times after needle insertion and removal.
  • Neither the volunteers nor acupuncturist knew the type of needle used — double blind.
  • A numeric rating scale (0-150) was used to compare the response to acupuncture, with the baseline pain intensity (100) before the needle was applied.
  • Each volunteer received all treatments separated by 24 hours — crossover design

And, the results.

  • There was no significant difference in analgesia between the penetrating and non-penetrating needles.
  • There was no significant correlation between analgesic effect and de qi — dull pain associated with needle application, which is considered essential for achieving successful acupuncture analgesia.
  • Significant analgesia was observed during needle application and immediately after needle removal for both the penetrating and non-penetrating needle trials vs the no-acupuncture control.

The bottom line?

Simply stated, the authors concluded, “Needle penetration did not confer a specific analgesic advantage over non-penetrating (placebo) needle application.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this story.

12/20/09 20:28 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.