During acupuncture treatments, acupuncture needles are manipulated to elicit the characteristic "de qi" reaction widely viewed as essential to acupuncture's therapeutic effect. De qi has a biomechanical component, "needle grasp," which we have quantified by measuring the force necessary to pull an acupuncture needle out of the skin (pullout force) in 60 human subjects. We hypothesized that pullout force is greater with both bidirectional needle rotation (BI) and unidirectional rotation (UNI) than no rotation (NO). Acupuncture needles were inserted, manipulated, and pulled out by using a computer-controlled acupuncture needling instrument at eight acupuncture points and eight control points. We found 167 and 52% increases in mean pullout force with UNI and BI, respectively, compared with NO (repeated-measures ANOVA, P < 0.001). Pullout force was on average 18% greater at acupuncture points than at control points (P < 0.001). Needle grasp is therefore a measurable biomechanical phenomenon associated with acupuncture needle manipulation.