Background: The concept of acupuncture point localisation in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on millenary practical experience. Modern imaging methods such as PET, MRI and SPECT have been used primary for the investigation of the mechanisms of action of acupuncture. In this pilot single-case study we have evaluated the technical possibilities for in-vivo imaging of the anatomical relations of acupuncture points using state of the art MRI.
Methods: Preliminary experiments relating to the quality of acupuncture needles under the setting of MRI were done both with stainless steel and gold needles. In a second step, in-vivo imaging was carried out. A licensed acupuncture practitioner (RM) chose two points belonging to the so-called extraordinary vessels. In 2 sequential, separate procedures, he inserted himself gold acupuncture needles using a neutral technique (known as Ping Bu Ping Xie) into the Dai mai and Shen mai points, i.e. gall bladder 26 and bladder 62. Imaging was done on a Siemens Magnetom Avanto MR scanner using a head array and body coil. Mainly T1-weighted imaging sequences, as routinely used for patient exams, were used to obtain multi-slice images.
Results: In the preliminary experiments only acupuncture needles made of gold showed enough stability in order to be used for further imaging procedures. Using an onion and a banana as an object, further studies showed that the gold needles produced a void defect that corresponds to the tip of the inserted needle, while at the same time an artefactually increased diameter was observed. The in-vivo experiments showed that the Dai mai point was in relation to the abdominal internal oblique muscle. The Shen mai point artefact showed up close to the longus and brevis peroneal tendons at the fibular malleolus. Side effects related to heating or burning were not observed. Improved anatomical recognition was obtained using 3D-volume rendering techniques.
Conclusion: Through an adequate choice of acupuncture material (gold needles) as well as of ideal MRI imaging sequences it has been possible to visualize the anatomical characteristics at the acupuncture points Dai mai and Shen mai in-vivo. At the selected sites the needles showed a relation to tendino-fascial and muscular structures. These anatomical structures fit well into the recently described WOMED concept of lateral tension in which these acupuncture points play a regulatory role.