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This review of deqi, the needling sensations associated with ‘grasping the qi’, is largely based on contemporary literature covering both research studies and clinical practice. Different understandings of the term deqi are classified according to the relative emphasis placed on practitioner or patient sensations. Both sets of sensations are explored, using theoretical and research data. The factors that may influence deqi are considered, particularly the variation that has been observed between acupuncture points and sham points, and that between different kinds of needling. The existing evidence for the therapeutic value of deqi is described, together with the limitations in this respect of most clinical trials. Deqi has been modelled in physiological terms and various physiological processes have been linked to deqi sensations: heart rate, blood flow, circulating hormones and neurological activity. The results from recent brain imaging studies are discussed. Finally, there is consideration of how the research results interact with different styles of acupuncture and how they lead onto questions pertinent to our own practical performance in the clinic. Ideas are put forward for research suited to practitioner-researchers.
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