There is evidence that acupuncture activates different spinal and supraspinal antinociceptive systems, but the specific modulatory effects on the sensory system have not been systematically investigated. In this study, we evaluated the immediate effects of different types of acupuncture on thermal, mechanical, and vibratory sensory thresholds. Twenty-four healthy volunteers (12 men and 12 women, mean age 33.1 years) received 3 different forms of acupuncture in a single-blinded crossover design; these included manual acupuncture, acupuncture with low-frequency electrical stimulation, and acupuncture with high-frequency electrical stimulation. The time between the interventions was 1 week. All forms of acupuncture were applied unilaterally in the leg at standard acupuncture points: spleen 6, spleen 9, stomach 36, and gallbladder 39. The effects of acupuncture were evaluated by systematic quantitative sensory testing (QST) immediately after each intervention. QST was performed on bilateral lower extremities, including thermal and mechanical perception and pain and vibratory thresholds. The heat pain threshold was increased after manual acupuncture on the treated and untreated side compared with baseline. Low- and high-frequency electrostimulation led to a higher mechanical pain threshold on the treated side compared with baseline and manual acupuncture. The pressure pain threshold was increased by all forms of acupuncture on both sides, with individual changes from baseline ranging from 25% to 52%.
There were congruent changes on QST after 3 common acupuncture stimulation methods, with possible unilateral as well as bilateral effects.