Acupuncture is the practice of stimulating points on the body that are known as acupoints. Acupuncturists typically perform this stimulation by inserting thin needles into the body, although they may also use other methods such as heat, lasers and pressure. Acupuncture is an essential component of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but it’s also gaining acceptance in Western medicine. TCM views acupuncture as a method for correcting imbalances in the body’s energy (qi) that flows through channels (meridians) along the body, although Western practitioners have generally abandoned these concepts. The practice of acupuncture varies considerably among individual practitioners, especially with respect to the specific needles used and the techniques for inserting them.
The clinical practice of acupuncture is generally based more on intuition rather than scientific research. Acupuncture treatment typically begins with an initial consultation in which the acupuncturist obtains the patient’s complaints and expectations for the subsequent sessions. Treatment sessions in the United States may last up to an hour and cost between $25 and $80. They usually consist of needle insertion, but may also include cupping and moxibustion. Acupuncturists typically provide acupuncture as part of a comprehensive system of care that also includes other treatments as well as diagnostic techniques.
Acupuncture needles are most often made from stainless steel, which resists rust and breaking. They’re usually disposable but they may also be reusable, requiring them to be sterilized before each use. Acupuncture needles vary in length from ½ to 5 inches, with diameters ranging from 0.006 to 0.018 inches. Acupuncturists use the smaller needles for the face and larger needles for the arms, legs and back. The ideal sharpness of the needles depends on a variety of factors such as needle size and the patient. A sharper needle causes less pain but is also more likely to break.
New England Journal of Medicine
National Institutes of Health
Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine
Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine