A new method for quantifying the needling component of acupuncture treatments
The highly variable nature of acupuncture needling creates challenges to systematic research. The goal of this study was to test the feasibility of quantifying acupuncture needle manipulation using motion and force measurements. It was hypothesised that distinct needling styles and techniques would produce different needle motion and force patterns that could be quantified and differentiated from each other.
A new needling sensor tool (Acusensor) was used to record needling in real time as performed by six New England School of Acupuncture staff from the 'Chinese acupuncture' (style 1) and 'Japanese acupuncture' (style 2) programmes (three from each). Each faculty expert needled 12 points (6 bilateral locations) in 12 healthy human subjects using tonification (technique 1) and dispersal (technique 2). Parameters calculated from the raw needling data were displacement amplitude, displacement frequency, rotation amplitude, rotation frequency, force amplitude and torque amplitude.
Data analysis revealed significant differences in the amplitude of displacement and rotation between needling performed by staff from two different acupuncture styles. Significant overall differences in the frequency of displacement between techniques 1 and 2 that were not dependent of the style of acupuncture being performed were also found. The relationships between displacement and rotation frequencies, as well as between displacement and force amplitudes showed considerable variability across individual acupuncturists and subjects.
Needling motion and force parameters can be quantified in a treatment-like setting. Needling data can subsequently be analysed, providing an objective method for characterising needling in basic and clinical acupuncture research.