Types of acupuncture needle

One of the images most closely associated to acupuncture is that of the acupuncture needle, the tool that is the bread and butter of acupuncturists across the world. In this article we look at how needles vary in the practice of acupuncture, and how different types of needles can be used.

Needles in acupuncture

Needles are a vital tool in the delivery of acupuncture, and their use stems from a basic belief integral to the practice of acupuncture. The traditional Chinese approach to acupuncture is based on the belief that applying needles to specific points on the body, known as acupuncture points, can restore the normal flow of a much needed life energy called Qi. According to these principles, disruptions in the flow of Qi is responsible for pain, discomfort, and disease, and as such remedying Qi flow through acupuncture is a great way to treat all manner of diseases.

More modern interpretations of the classic acupuncture philosophy centre around the theory that acupuncture needles can effectively stimulate nerve cells in such a way that natural, anti-pain agents are released. These are substances called neurotransmitters, and are a natural, healthy way of relieving pain associated with pregnancies, injuries, and diseases.

It is important to point out that while acupuncturists claim to be able to remedy a myriad of different conditions including autism and arthritis, the scientific evidence available to date has only supported a hand full of these assertions. That being said, many people have benefited from acupuncture treatment, both here in the UK and in the wider world, making it an invaluable complement to modern healthcare.

What are different kinds of needles used in acupuncture?

As with any discipline, acupuncture can involve the use of a variety of different tools. A number of different needles are available, each with a distinctive application.

Filiform needles are very much the standard acupuncture needle used today. These needles are usually made of stainless steel (although other materials can be used e.g. copper used in Korean acupuncture), and are available in a range of different dimensions.

These needles are also usually equipped with a plastic guide tube that allows for more painless and accurate applications. The guide tube is pressed against the skin and is a way of effectively targeting the needle to the acupuncture point being targeted. It also allows the needle to be tapped into the skin very quickly, which makes the whole process much less painful as the needle slides straight through the topmost superficial layers of skin which are rich in pain perceiving nerve cells.

Specialist acupuncture needles include the three-edged needle, a designed used to target particular acupuncture points with the intention of releasing a few droplets of blood. Filiform needles and their use is geared towards painlessly sliding a needle into the skin, ideally without any bleeding at all. In contrast, the use of the three-edged needle is such that it aims to draw blood and through that stimulate healing.  A number of distinctive techniques are applied with a three edged needle, with each ease depending on the practitioner’s training and experience in their use.

The seven star or plum blossom needle is an arrangement of seven standard needles (filiform needles) attached to a handle. This particular type of needle is tapped quickly to stimulate certain acupoints, usually near the skin.

Intradermal needles are exceptionally short acupuncture needles used on more sensitive parts of the body where minimal needle penetration is needed. They are most widely used for acupunctural treatment of the ears, a practice known as auricular acupuncture. These needles won’t go much deeper than 1-3mm, and are often left in place for some time.

Press needles are a variation on the standard acupuncture needle designed to be left within a particular acupoint for a certain amount of time, in some cases, as long as 3 days. These press needles are fixed into position through a surgical adhesive area, and are usually quite short (between 1mm and 3mm). The needle is designed with a small loop at its base, preventing it from accidentally sliding too far into the skin.

Each of these needles has their own, distinctive application and use. Through the careful application of the appropriate type of needle, an acupuncturist can achieve excellent results and treat their patient effectively.

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