Pacific Wellness Institute Clinic: Bloor-Yorkville Toronto

A Comparative Study on Acupuncture Stimulation


A Comparative Study on Acupuncture Stimulation During a Patient’s Exhalation Phase Only and Continuous Stimulation

Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D. Gerald Leisman , MD., Ph .D., Kazushi Nishijo, Ph.D.

(Published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 90, No. 1-2, 45-58, 1997)



This study investigated the physiological effect of superficial acupuncture stimulation during a patient’s exhalation phase in a sitting position (SES). The response to SES was compared to the stimulation applied continuously without considering the respiratory phase (CONT). It evaluated a chronic tension-type headache patient’s static Electromyographic (EMG) activity, pain response, heart rate, pulse height, and skin conductance level. The results indicated that SES stimulation significantly decreased headache intensity and demonstrated a strong trend towards decreasing static EMG activity compared to CONT stimulation. The study concluded that acupuncture, applied on the same point and at the same depth, produced different physiological effects, depending on whether the stimulation was applied during exhalation only or continuously applied. This suggests that the effect of acupuncture derives not only from point selection matching symptoms, but also from a consideration and utilization of the patient’s respiratory phase during stimulation.

Clinical Implementation: Whenever I am lecturing or when I meet with my colleagues, I am invariably asked: “Which point do you use for this: condition, disease?” etc.  I answer with whatever point I think is best; he/she will make a note and the inquiry will end. 

 Almost no one asks me additional questions such as: “So how do you stimulate the point?”  The reason why many practitioners overlook these finer details, often the most important aspect of providing effective acupuncture, is due to the fact that in North America most students are taught to treat a patient by matching the condition with the prescribed acupuncture points in the textbook. 

 This study shows that using the same points on the same patient can produce quite different responses depending on the stimulation applied during the exhalation phase or if applied continuously.  This study demonstrates that if acupuncture is administered skillfully, and with consideration as to the patient’s physiological
state during needling, the amount of stimulation required can be extremely small (will not need deep and strong needling) to produce a significant effect on the patient’s pain reduction and physiological system.
(Jan. 2002)