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Open Access Research article

Deqi sensations without cutaneous sensory input: results of an RCT

Norbert Salih1, Petra I Bäumler1, Michael Simang12 and Dominik Irnich1*

Author Affiliations

1 Multidisciplinary Pain Center, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Munich, Munich, Germany

2 Institute for Medical Information Sciences, Biometry, and Epidemiology, University of Munich, Munich, Germany

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2010, 10:81  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-81

Published: 28 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Deqi is defined in relation to acupuncture needling as a sensory perception of varying character. In a recently published sham laser validation study, we found that subjects in the verum and the sham laser group experienced deqi sensations. Therefore, we aim to further analyze whether the perceptions reported in the two study arms were distinguishable and whether expectancy effects exhibited considerable impact on our results.

Methods

A detailed re-analysis focusing on deqi sensations was performed from data collected in a previously published placebo-controlled, double-blind, clinical cross-over trial for a sham laser evaluation. Thirty-four healthy volunteers (28 ± 10.7 years; 16 women, 18 men) received two laser acupuncture treatments at three acupuncture points LI4 (hégu), LU7 (liéque), and LR3 (táichong); once by verum laser and once using a sham device containing an inactive laser in randomized order. Outcome measures were frequency, intensity (evaluated by visual analogue scale; VAS), and quality of the subjects' sensations perceived during treatments (assessed with the "acupuncture sensation scale").

Results

Both, verum and the sham laser acupuncture result in similar deqi sensations with regard to frequency (p-value = 0.67), intensity (p-value = 0.71) and quality (p-values between 0.15 - 0.98). In both groups the most frequently used adjectives to describe these perceptions were "spreading", "radiating", "tingling", "tugging", "pulsing", "warm", "dull", and "electric". Sensations reported were consistent with the perception of deqi as previously defined in literature. Subjects' conviction regarding the effectiveness of laser acupuncture or the history of having received acupuncture treatments before did not correlate with the frequency or intensity of sensations reported.

Conclusions

Since deqi sensations, described as sensory perceptions, were elicited without any cutaneous sensory input, we assume that they are a product of non-specific effects from the overall treatment procedure. Expectancy-effects due to previous acupuncture experience and belief in laser acupuncture do not seem to play a major role in elicitation of deqi sensations. Our results give hints that deqi might be a central phenomenon of awareness and consciousness, and that its relevance should be taken into account, even in clinical trials. However, further research is required to understand mechanisms underlying deqi.