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Effects of acupuncture on skin and muscle blood flow in healthy subjects


In 14 healthy female subjects, the effects of needle stimulation (acupuncture) on skin and muscle blood flow were investigated using a non-invasive custom-designed probe and photoplethysmography (PPG). In randomised order, 2–7 days apart, three modes of needle stimulation were performed on the anterior aspect of the tibia: superficial insertion (SF), insertion into the anterior tibial muscle (Mu), and insertion into the muscle including manipulation of the needle in order to elicit a distinct sensation of distension, heaviness or numbness (DeQi). Before intervention, the subjects rested for 30 min. After the intervention, the needle was left in situ for 20 min. Blood flow recordings were performed intermittently from 10 min prior to the intervention to the end of the trial. In a fourth session, serving as control, corresponding measurements were performed without any needle stimulation. Area under curve was calculated for 5-min periods prior to and after stimulation, respectively, and for the remaining 15-min period after stimulation. Compared to the control situation, muscle blood flow increased following both Mu and DeQi for 20 min, with the latter being more pronounced for the initial 5 min. Skin blood flow increased for 5 min following DeQi. However, no increase was found following SF. The DeQi stimulation was preceded by higher visual analogue scale ratings of anxiety prior to stimulation, which might have influenced skin blood flow to some extent. The results indicate that the intensity of the needling is of importance, the DeQi stimulation resulting in the most pronounced increase in both skin and muscle blood flow.

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The authors want to thank Per Sveider and Bengt Ragnemalm for technical assistance. This work was supported by grants from the County Council in Östergötland, the Foundation for Acupuncture and Alternative Biological Treatment Methods, The Swedish Rheumatism Association and the National Swedish Board for Technical Development (project 98–06659).

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Correspondence to Margareta Sandberg.

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Sandberg, M., Lundeberg, T., Lindberg, LG. et al. Effects of acupuncture on skin and muscle blood flow in healthy subjects. Eur J Appl Physiol 90, 114–119 (2003).

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  • Axon reflex
  • Needle stimulation
  • Non-invasive
  • Photoplethysmography (PPG)
  • Vasodilatation