Article Text

The role of touch in acupuncture treatment
  1. Younbyoung Chae1,
  2. Håkan Olausson2
  1. 1Acupuncture & Meridian Science Research Center, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
  2. 2Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Professor Younbyoung Chae, Acupuncture & Meridian Science Research Center, Kyung Hee University, 1 Hoegi-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul 130-701, Republic of Korea; ybchae{at}


Acupuncture is a therapeutic treatment that is characterised by the insertion of a needle at a particular location on the body. Acupuncture stimulation includes sensory-discriminative and affective-social touch dimensions. In this review, we discuss the role of touch during acupuncture stimulation with an emphasis on the therapeutic, sensory-discriminative and affective-social aspects. In the discriminative dimension, de qi, which is associated with needling, includes a combination of various sensations, such as heaviness, numbness, soreness and distension. Achieving the appropriate de qi sensation appears to be fundamental to the therapeutic outcome following acupuncture treatment. In the affective dimension, the acupuncture procedure typically includes gentle manual touch stimulation, which induces feelings of calm and well-being, perhaps by activating C tactile fibres. Enhanced activity of C tactile afferents may induce a ‘limbic touch’ response, resulting in emotional and hormonal reactions. Because acupuncture is a ‘therapist intensive’ and complex intervention, it is necessary to understand the role of social touch between the practitioner and patient. Both sensory-discriminative and affective-social touch aspects play an important role in the therapeutic effect of acupuncture treatment in clinical practice.


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  • Contributors YC and HO conceived the study. YC and HO drafted the article and revised the article.

  • Funding This research was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (2015R1D1A1A01058033) and the framework of international cooperation program managed by National Research Foundation of Korea (2014K2A3A1000166).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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