This randomised, controlled trial was to determine if blinded subjects are able to discriminate between needle stimulation at traditional acupuncture points and sham points, based on the appreciation of needling sensation (de qi); and if needling at traditional points is related to the objective parameter of serum cortisol increase. Manual acupuncture at traditional and sham points was applied to 20 healthy male students in a single-blind crossover design. Needle sensation (de qi) was reported as significantly stronger with traditional needling than with sham acupuncture. Needling at traditional acupuncture points moderately, but significantly, increased serum cortisol values at 5, 25 and 45 minutes after cessation of stimulation. Needle sensation did not correlate with serum cortisol levels. Experience of pain did not show a difference between traditional and sham needling, nor did it correlate with serum cortisol levels. We conclude that acupuncture points show subjective (needling sensation) and objective (serum cortisol increase) specificity.
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