Introduction: In western medicine, the diaphragm is the main inspiratory muscle. It is involved in the postural control of the trunk and contributes to balance performance. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the diaphragm represents a gateway between the lower and upper parts of the body, and it regulates the descending and ascending functions of the whole organism. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of acupuncture on diaphragm function.
Methods: A proof-of-concept, prospective, controlled, pilot trial in healthy volunteers. Respiratory rate, inspired volume, diaphragm excursion, and thickening were measured during tidal and maximal breathing at baseline and after sham or real acupuncture. Acupuncture was performed on Yanglingquan (GB34), Tai Chong (LV3), Danzhong (CV17), Geshu (BL17), and Geguan (BL46).
Results: Ten participants were enrolled (6 males, weight 71 ± 12 kg, height 173 ± 9 cm, BMI 21 ± 1.3 kg/m2). During tidal breathing, tidal volume, diaphragm displacement, and end-expiratory diaphragm thickness did not change with sham or real acupuncture as compared to baseline; thickening ratio was 43.5 ± 16.6 vs. 31.3 ± 14.9 (sham) vs. 30.8 ± 15.3% (baseline), p=0.1066. During breaths at vital capacity, the acupuncture group, as compared to both baseline and sham acupuncture, had a trend toward a larger tidal volume (3840 ± 690 vs. 3110 ± 880 vs. 3230 ± 750 ml, p=0.1247) and showed a significantly higher thickening ratio (270.6 ± 136.4 vs. 172.4 ± 57.4 vs. 188.6 ± 41.7%, p=0.0414).
Conclusions: Acupuncture significantly influenced diaphragm function in healthy volunteers, improving its inspiratory thickening fraction during breaths at vital capacity, as compared to no or sham acupuncture.