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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 808203, 5 pages
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2011/808203
Research Article

The Problem of Metal Needles in Acupuncture-fMRI Studies

1Brain Imaging Center, Goethe University, 60325 Frankfurt, Germany
2Department of Neurology, Goethe University, 60325 Frankfurt, Germany
3Department of Chinese Medicine, Witten/Herdecke Private University, 58448 Witten, Germany

Received 25 October 2010; Accepted 11 January 2011

Copyright © 2011 Florian Beissner et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

Acupuncture is a therapy based on sensory stimulation of the human body by means of metal needles. The exact underlying mechanisms of acupuncture have not been clarified so far. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has become an important tool in acupuncture research. Standard acupuncture needles, which are made of ferromagnetic steel, however, are problematic in acupuncture-fMRI studies for several reasons, such as attraction by the scanner's magnetic field, significant image distortions and signal-dropouts, when positioned close to the head or even heating due to absorption of radio frequency (RF). The aim of this study was to compare two novel types of acupuncture needles with a standard needle for their effect on MRI image quality. The standard needle severely reduced image quality, when located inside the RF coil. The nonferromagnetic metal needle may pose a risk due to RF heating, while the plastic needle has a significantly larger diameter. In conclusion, our recommendations are: (1) standard needles should not be used in MRI; (2) Nonferromagnetic metal needles seem to be the best choice for acupoints outside of the transmitter coil; and (3) only plastic needles are suited for points inside the coil. Laser acupuncture may be a safe alternative, too.