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Are physiological changes experienced by healthy subjects during acu-TENS associated with acupuncture point sensations?
  1. David T W Yu1,
  2. Alice Y M Jones2
  1. 1Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China
  2. 2School of Rehabilitation Sciences, Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
  1. Correspondence to David Yu, Physiotherapy Department, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Kowloon, Hong Kong 852, China; yutwd{at}


Background Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation over acupuncture points (acu-TENS) has been reported to improve clinical outcomes. The objectives of the present study were to investigate whether acupuncture point sensations were experienced during acu-TENS, and whether such sensations were associated with any concomitant changes in autonomic nervous system activity.

Methods This study adopted a single-blinded, randomised, controlled trial methodology. A total of 36 healthy subjects were randomly assigned to an experimental group (acu-TENS on right LI4 and LI11 points); control group (acu-TENS to bilateral kneecaps); or placebo group (sham acu-TENS on right LI4 and LI11 points). Heart rate (HR), mean arterial blood pressure (MAP), SD of the NN interval (SDNN) and low frequency to high frequency ratio (LF/HF) were measured before, during and after intervention. The Hong Kong Chinese version of the Massachusetts General Hospital Acupuncture Sensation Scale (C-MMASS) index was used for quantifying the acupuncture point stimulation sensations.

Results The experimental group showed a significant increase in HR (mean (SD) 73.5 (6.3) to 75.9 (6.7) bpm, p=0.027), MAP (88.5 (4.5) to 91.0 (4.1) mm Hg, p=0.004), SDNN (143.36 (8.58) to 153.69 (7.64) ms, p=0.002) and LF/HF (1.26 (0.19) to 1.31 (0.21), p=0.037) during the intervention. The control group showed a significant increase in SDNN (140.21 (8.72) to 143.39 (9.47) ms, p=0.009) and LF/HF (1.21 (0.09) to 1.23 (0.12), p=0.033). There were no significant physiological changes in the placebo group. Overall C-MMASS indices for the experimental, control and placebo groups were 3.23 (0.3), 2.14 (0.6) and 0.29 (0.32), respectively. The between-group difference was statistically significant (F=139.24, df=2, p<0.05). However, correlation analysis did not support any association between sensation intensity and physiological responses in any groups (γ ranged from −0.36 to 0.25).

Conclusions This study showed that ‘acupuncture point sensations’ were experienced during acu-TENS to LI4 and LI11, but such sensations were not associated with physiological responses induced during the stimulation.


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