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So far, I've been exposed to acupuncture as a version of "traditional" medicine that included all sorts of woo about the flow of energy, and claims along the lines of "sticking a needle into this part here of your little toe will help you with liver ailments".

But when I last visit my physiotherapist for a muscle injury, she used acupuncture needles to increase blood flow into that muscle, and also claimed that it'd release a pain-relieving chemical.

The muscles in my foot did indeed feel warm from that therapy, but I do know that warm feelings can be induced purely by the placebo effect.

Still, the claim of increasing blood flow via a pain response or maybe introduction of a foreign body doesn't sound as outlandish and makes no references to the usual woo of energy flows, chakras or other such stuff.

Question: Does acupuncture increase blood flow?

  • Off hand, it looks like you are asking two different (although related) questions. You have the main title of if it increases blood flow to muscle (quick answer seems to be yes) while there is the second, heavier handed question of if it is all "woo" or not. Wikipedia can help here but the problem is that it's very complicated quite frankly can be a bit of mess to untangle what may work and what may not work. The easiest answer on that front is "research is ongoing. – rjzii Jun 18 '14 at 18:10
  • I edited the question to make it one question. That done, I'll note that there is another question hidden there - does increasing the bllod-flow/making the area warm have a positive effect on the outcome? – Oddthinking Jun 19 '14 at 1:11
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    @Oddthinking Thanks for the edits. With regards to increasing blood flow, I suspect that anyone answering this question might want to approach the question more from the standpoint of physical therapy than acupuncture since I think a standard part of physical therapy is to encourage and improve blood flow to encourage healing. – rjzii Jun 19 '14 at 1:45
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In this small study of 14 healthy female subjects blood flow to skin and muscle was measured following acupuncture needle insertion: [1]

In randomised order, 2-7 days apart, three modes of needle stimulation were performed on the anterior aspect of the tibia: superficial insertion (SF), insertion into the anterior tibial muscle (Mu), and insertion into the muscle including manipulation of the needle in order to elicit a distinct sensation of distension, heaviness or numbness (DeQi).

Blood flow in skin and muscle was measured non-invasively, increased blood flow to muscle was demonstrated:

blood flow with acupuncture

Compared to the control situation, muscle blood flow increased following both Mu and DeQi for 20 min, with the latter being more pronounced for the initial 5 min. Skin blood flow increased for 5 min following DeQi. However, no increase was found following SF.

A similar study conducted on subjects with fibromyalgia found: [2]

However, in FM patients subcutaneous needle insertion was followed by a significant increase in both skin and muscle blood flow, in contrast to findings in healthy subjects where no significant blood flow increase was found following the subcutaneous needling. The different results of subcutaneous needling between the groups (skin blood flow: p=0.008; muscle blood flow: p=0.027) may be related to a greater sensitivity to pain and other somatosensory input in FM.


[1] Sandberg M, Lundeberg T, Lindberg LG, Gerdle B. Effects of acupuncture on skin and muscle blood flow in healthy subjects. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 2003 Sep;90(1-2):114-9. doi: 10.1007/s00421-003-0825-3. PubMed PMID: 12827364.

[2] Sandberg M, Lindberg LG, Gerdle B. Peripheral effects of needle stimulation (acupuncture) on skin and muscle blood flow in fibromyalgia. Eur J Pain. 2004 Apr;8(2):163-71. doi: 10.1016/S1090-3801(03)00090-9. PubMed PMID: 14987626.

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    Huh. I wonder whether they attempted the same with sham acupuncture as a control. – Sean Duggan Jun 20 '14 at 12:08

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