Needles are absolutely vital to the practice of acupuncture as they are the tools with which treatment is performed. Whether following the ancient Chinese philosophy of Qi or the more modern theories of nerve stimulation, acupuncturists across the world make use of needles to penetrate the skin and treat a variety of conditions like back pain and nausea. In this article we look at what these needles are made of these days, and what they have been made of in the past.
Acupuncture is a practice dating back thousands of years, and in the past needles have been made of a variety of different materials, some of which were perhaps not the most hygienic options. Traditional Chinese acupuncturists would use needles made out of a variety of metals including silver and gold, as well as less conventional materials like bone or stone.
Modern needles – considerations and materials
Modern needles are devised with a number of considerations in mind, the most important of which is undoubtedly infection control. Acupuncture is, in principle, an invasive process that involves puncturing skin and potentially exposing both a person’s skin and underlying tissue to disease causing agents.
Modern needles need to be made from materials that can be sterilised. They also need to be made out of something that can be shaped into a fine needle without the risk of the needle easily deforming and breaking.
With these factors in mind the majority of modern needles are made out of stainless steel, a material malleable enough that it can be shaped into needles of varying dimensions, and yet strong enough to withstand insertion into skin without a risk of deformity. Stainless Steel can also be sterilised as a one off, disposable needle, or withstand multiple sterilisations as reusable needles (provided they are sterilised appropriately).
Many modern needles also come equipped with a ‘guide tube’. This is a hollow bit of plastic placed around the needle that, when placed against skin, allows a needle to be tapped through the top most layers of skin quickly and painfully. These layers of skin are the ones responsible for signalling pain, and through guide tubes acupuncture needles can be passed through these parts of skin painlessly and accurately.
In some parts of the world, most notably Korea, other materials are used in the manufacture of acupuncture needles. Korean acupuncturists use copper needles, although in most parts of the world stainless steel options are the preferred option.
Modern needles are manufactured to a high standard, and it is important that the practitioner wielding them is also trained to a similarly high standard.
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