Local and Systemic Analgesic Effects of Nerve-Specific Acupuncture in Healthy Adults, Measured by Quantitative Sensory Testing

Alexandra Dimitrova, Dana Dharmakaya Colgan, Barry Oken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Objective: This study aims to assess whether acupuncture analgesia's effects are local or systemic and whether there is a dose response for these effects. Methods: Twenty-eight healthy volunteers aged 18-45 were randomized to two doses of acupuncture using points closely associated with peripheral nerves in the legs. The lower-dose group involved acupoints overlying the deep peroneal nerve (DP), and the higher-dose involved acupoints overlying the deep peroneal and posterior tibial nerves (DPTN). Baseline and acupuncture quantitative sensory testing (QST) assessments were obtained locally in the calf and great toe and systemically in the hand. Results were analyzed using factorial repeated-measures analysis of variance for each of the QST variables - cold detection threshold (CDT), vibration detection threshold (VDT), heat pain threshold (HP0.5), and heat pain perception of 5/10 (HP5.0). Location (leg/hand) and time (baseline/acupuncture) were within-subject factors. Intervention (DP/DPTN) was a between-subject factor. Results: CDT was increased in the calf (P < 0.001) and in the hand (P < 0.001). VDT was increased in the toe (P < 0.001) but not in the hand. HP0.5 was increased in the calf (P < 0.001) and in the hand (P < 0.001). HP5.0 was increased in the calf (P = 0.002) and in the hand (P < 0.001), with the local effect being significantly greater than the systemic (P = 0.004). In all of the above QST modalities, there was no difference between the low-dose (DP) and high-dose (DPTN) acupuncture groups. Conclusions: Acupuncture caused comparable local and systemic analgesic effects in cold detection and heat pain perception and only local effects in vibration perception. There was no clear acupuncture dose response to these effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E232-E242
JournalPain Medicine (United States)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020



  • Acupuncture
  • Acupuncture Dose Response
  • Electroacupuncture
  • Heat Pain
  • Pain Perception
  • Quantitative Sensory Testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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