An Ancient Art

Acupuncture is perhaps the form of traditional Chinese medicine most recognisable to us here in the West. As with many complementary therapies, its popularity as an alternative to conventional treatment has grown steadily since the 1970s.

In China, however, the practice of acupuncture dates back to the first millennium BC and it is widely accepted there as a standard medical treatment. Indeed, many operations in China are performed with little or no anaesthesia other than acupuncture. Acupuncture, though, is far more than just a useful treatment to block pain.

The Theory Behind the Practice

Traditional Chinese medical theory is based upon the idea of qi (pronounced “chee”), or vital energy. This energy circulates the body through precise pathways called meridians. Blockages, deficiencies or excesses in the circulation of qi result in disease and pain. By correcting such imbalances, then, traditional Chinese medicine seeks a condition of balance in which the body is healthy and pain-free. The stimulation of points along the meridians with acupuncture needles is one way to do this.

Broadly, each meridian corresponds to one of the various functional systems within the body e.g. Heart, Spleen, Kidney, Gall Bladder etc. It should be noted that though the names of organs are used to distinguish the various systems, these terms have broader meaning in traditional Chinese medicine than they do in conventional Western medicine. For instance, in traditional Chinese medicine the Heart meridian is responsible for consciousness, anxiety and sleeping as well as the physical functioning of the organ.

What the Acupuncturist Does

By inserting very fine needles at various prescribed points along particular meridians, the acupuncturist is able to stimulate qi and treat the patient for a wide range of conditions.

Most acupuncturists today use disposable, single-use needles of between 0.18mm and 0.51mm in diameter. Depending on the treatment, the needles are inserted vertically or at an angle, usually to a depth of between 0.5cm and 2.5 cm. Certain acupuncture points, though, require considerably deeper insertion.

After inserting the needles, the acupuncturist will, if the position of the needles allows it, leave the patient lying on a comfortable treatment table while the needles do their work. Typically, a treatment session lasts between half an hour and an hour. The number of needles used will depend on the condition being treated. The condition, and its severity, likewise determine the total number of treatment sessions required.

Variations on the treatment include applying heat or a weak current of electricity to the needles after insertion to further stimulate the acupuncture point.

A Painless Procedure

Acupuncture is a relatively painless procedure due to the fineness of the needles. A stinging sensation may be experienced as the needle is inserted, but this passes quickly and the patient should then experience no further pain. Often the insertion of acupuncture needles is followed by a pleasant feeling of warmth or energy in the treated area. The Chinese call this de qi (“arrival of the qi”).


Though acupuncture may be considered an invasive procedure, the risk of injury or adverse effect is minimal when administered by a properly trained practitioner using sterile needles.

Occasionally, there will be a small amount of bleeding at a needle site when the needle is withdrawn. This is easily staunched and generally ceases within a matter of seconds. Bruising, too, may occur at needle sites. Other more severe, but very rare, risks attend very deep needling at certain sites e.g. the base of the skull (stroke, brain damage), lung (pneumothorax), kidney (kidney damage), heart (haemopericardium).

In the hands of a skilled and qualified acupuncturist, though, acupuncture is a very safe modality and the vast majority of patients experience no ill-effects whatsoever. It is important, though, to check your practitioner’s qualifications and their membership of any pertinent governing bodies. In New Zealand one such body is the New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists (NZRA)

Acceptance in the West

The effectiveness of acupuncture treatment, coupled with its relative lack of risk, has seen increasing acceptance of this eastern discipline by the West. In 2007 the National Health Interview Survey estimated 3.1 million adults in the United States had used acupuncture in the past year.

Either to complement conventional medical treatment or as an option when conventional medicine has failed, it seems significant numbers of people are turning to the simple, drug-free alternative of balancing their qi with acupuncture.

Acupuncture – an Ancient Treatment for a Modern World, 1.4 out of 5 based on 8 ratings

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  1. Acupuncture Needles – What Are They.The use of strategically inserted needles in order to stimulate the body’s natural healing procedure is nothing new, although it can appear like a fairly strange procedure to undergo if you’re a person who’s uninitiated to these kinds of treatments. Children have a tendency to grow up with a natural aversion to needles, and that tends to filter into the way we believe as adults. The fear of acquiring pricked subsides, but we still attempt to avoid needles unless obtaining stuck with 1 is absolutely required.

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