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De qi: Chinese acupuncture patients’ experiences and beliefs regarding acupuncture needling sensation – an exploratory survey
  1. Jun J Mao, assistant professor and licensed acupuncturist1,
  2. John T Farrar, assistant professor2,
  3. Katrina Armstrong, associate professor2,
  4. Alethea Donahue, research assistant3,
  5. Jessica Ngo, medical student4,
  6. Marjorie A Bowman, professor and chair3
  1. 1
    Department of Family Medicine and Community Health Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  2. 2
    Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  3. 3
    Stanford University, School of Medicine
  4. 4
    Department of Family Medicine and Community Health University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
  1. maoj{at}


Introduction While de qi, the acupuncture needling sensation, has been considered as an important component of acupuncture, little is known of the acupuncture patient’s experience and beliefs about de qi in clinical settings. The aim of this study was to describe Chinese acupuncture patients’ perceived sensations of, and beliefs about, acupuncture needling.

Methods We developed a questionnaire and conducted a survey study at two time periods among 200 subjects at six outpatient acupuncture clinics in Beijing, China.

Results Respondents were 55% female and had a mean age of 41 years. The most common types of needling sensations reported by subjects were the terms ‘distended’(94%), ‘sore’(81%), ‘electric’(81%) and ‘numb’ (78%). Eighty-nine percent of subjects reported that the needling sensation travelled away from the puncturing points or travelled among the needling points. Eighty-two percent of subjects believed that the needling sensation was very important for acupuncture treatment, and 68% further indicated that the stronger the needling sensation, the more effective the therapy. Eighty-one percent of subjects found the acupuncture process to be very comfortable and relaxing.

Conclusion Chinese acupuncture patients described the common characteristics of de qi and its migratory nature. The sensations were believed to be important in producing clinical efficacy by most patients. Measuring the sensations described as de qi in future prospective studies will help us understand the degree to which this phenomenon has an effect on the physiological outcome and clinical response to acupuncture. There appears to be a limit to the number of sensations that can be discriminated by each individual patient, and further development of the questionnaire is planned.

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