What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is one of the key components in Classical Chinese Medicine. It is mostly known in the West for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. This treatment involves inserting thin needles through your skin at specific points on your body as determined by the acupuncturist. In the traditional practice of acupuncture, the intention is to balance the flow of energy or life force which is believed to flow through pathways, or meridians, in your body. This flow of energy is called: Qi or chi (CHEE). The insertion of needles signals the body to correct imbalances in the flow of Qi and restore health and well-being. In western practices, most acupuncturists view acupuncture points as places to access nerves, muscles, and their connective tissues to stimulate the body’s own natural healing abilities.

Origins in History

Acupuncture is one of the oldest healing practices in the world. It has been practiced in China and other Eastern countries for thousands of years. The practice became better known in the United States in 1971 when New York Times reporter, James Reston, wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery.

Varieties & Types

Classical Chinese

Chinese style of acupuncture uses various methods to determine acupuncture points, including tongue and pulse diagnosis and meridian palpation. This type of acupuncture sometime uses other therapies like; cupping, moxibustion, Gua Sha, electro-acupunture, and more in conjunction with needles.


While similar to the style of Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture, Japanese style relies on the palpitation of the abdomen and meridians, as well as pulses, to determine where treatment is needed. Japanese style often incorporates mild stimulation and moxibustion. This style of acupuncture is often recommended for needle sensitive patients.


Moxibustion uses mugwort, an herb, to promote circulation and the flow of Qi. Mugwort is burned directly or indirectly on the acupuncture point. Moxibustion can be used with needles or by itself. Patients report that its effects are warm and soothing.


Cupping uses a glass or plastic jar or cup that is attached to the surface of the skin in order to create a suction. This effect brings congested, stagnant Qi and blood towards the surface promoting free-flowing energy.

Gua Sha

Gua Sha is a friction/scraping technique. “Sha” is congestion under the skin surface and in the tissue below that causes stiffness and pain. When “Sha” comes to the surface there is a warm feeling and sometimes skin discoloration, which will go away quickly. Gua Sha is applied with a traditional rounded tool which resembles as a china soup spoon.

What Is Care Like?

Health Benefits
Acupuncture can be used to treat acute or chronic illness, strengthen the immune system and relieve pain. The majority of patients tend to see acupuncturists for back, joint, and neck pain. However, acupuncture has had success treating a wide range of issues such as:

  • fibromyalgia
  • menstrual cramps
  • headaches and migraines
  • labor pain
  • osteoarthritis
  • dental pain
  • tennis elbow
  • chemotherapy-induced nausea

Actions & Experiences During a Session
Your practitioner will ask you detailed questions about the symptoms you are having and levels of pain you are experiencing. He or she may ask you questions about your lifestyle and behaviors. Some common areas your acupuncturist may examine are:

- Where you are experiencing pain
- Shape, coating and color of your tongue
- Face color
- The strength, rhythm and quality of your pulse

Your acupuncturist will determine the general location of the planned treatment. Don’t be surprised if the needles are inserted in different places from where you are experiencing pain. Sometimes acu-points that need stimulation are far removed from the area of your pain. In some cases, clothing will need to be removed and if appropriate a towel or sheet will be provided. You will receive your treatment lying down on a padded treatment table.

Needles are a cause of stress for most first-timers. But, not to worry! Acupuncture needles are disposable and very thin, and usually cause little or no discomfort. Between 5 and 20 needles are used during a typical treatment. At times your acupuncturist may gently manipulate/stimulate the needles after they have been placed. Sometimes they may apply heat or mild electrical pulses to the needles. The needles will tend to remain in place for 10 to 40 minutes depending on the condition and style of treatment. Post-acupuncture, many patients feel relaxed, while some feel energized. However, not everyone responds immediately to acupuncture. Don’t give up after the first session. It can often take several sessions to feel results. Most importantly, listen to what your body is telling you and the advice of your acupuncturist as time progresses.

Duration of Care

The initial evaluation may take an hour or two, while follow-up appointments typically last about half an hour. Common treatment plans among acupuncture patients for one specific pain area can involve six to 12 treatments over the course of a few weeks to few months.

Resources & References

The Mayo Clinic


WebMD Chinese Medicine Basics

Integrative Healing Arts: Acupuncture Techniques

What next?

Search Find Wellness to find a qualified acupuncturist who meets your needs. Be sure to work with a licensed acupuncturist. In the United States, acupuncturists are certified through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.