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During an acupuncture treatment, when the licensed practitioner inserts a needle into an acu - point, they will usually twist and rotate the needle, or move the needle up and down at different levels within the tissue. This is called needle manipulation / stimulation. Needle stimulation is only performed at point locations where it is safe to do so.
While the acupuncturist is stimulating the needle the patient will feel one or more of a range of sensations, which are referred to as deqi.
The different sensations that can be experienced are as follows:
These tend to be the most commonly reported experiences while the needle is being manipulated. If a patient feels a sharp, burning pain or a pain that is uncomfortable and doesn't dissipate and go away, the patient should advise the acupuncturist, so they can adjust the needle for a more comfortable experience.
Why do we want deqi and is it necessary?
Clinically, practitioners want a deqi response, because it is associated with a higher rate of efficacy and better patient outcomes. Is this what the research says? Yes and no.
Over the past 15 years or so, there has been more interest in the subject of deqi, but many of the studies were qualitative and focused manly on the patients's perception of deqi. More recently, there have been a few quantitative studies that have utilized new technologies to measure brain responses, tissue displacement, blood flow and amplitude of myoelectricity (electrical activity in skeletal muscles) at needling sites.
There is scientific debate over the efficacy of deqi. Some studies provide evidence that there is a difference in how effective a treatment is with or without deqi; that when deqi is present patient outcomes are better. Then there are those who conclude that deqi is not necessary for treatment efficacy.
My own clinical opinion is that degi is necessary and does promote better patient outcomes. One major problem with studies is that they are controlled and so do not represent real - life situations, most particularly, treatment plans which are ongoing, not just a limited amount of visits within a predetermined time frame.