Acupuncture is a Chinese traditional medical technique that involves inserting and manipulating acupuncture needles into a part of the body to relieve pain or provide therapy. There are several types of acupuncture needles, ranging from small, thin, stainless steel ones to thicker, longer ones made of silver and gold. The practice of acupuncture has been traced back as far as the Stone Age, and stone acupuncture needs have been found dating back as far as 3000 B.C. Acupuncture still remains a largely misunderstood and controversial form of medicine in Western society.
Acupuncture needles do penetrate the skin, and so hygiene is a major concern. Most professional acupuncturists use pre-sterilized single use needle packs meant to be thrown away after each client. They are packaged in blister packs backed with foil, and have guide tubes on one end to avoid any injury while using them.
Acupuncture needles come in a variety of lengths and diameters, based on their purpose, and on which part of the body they are to be employed. In ancient Chinese practice, there were as many as nine types of needles. In modern acupuncture, the most common type of needle is the metal filiform, or thread-like, needle made from stainless steel. These acupuncture needles can be made of silver or gold, as well. Their lengths generally range between eight millimeters and seven centimeters, while diameters will vary from .012 millimeters to .35 millimeters.
Apart from filiform acupuncture needles, there are specialized types of needles for certain uses. The first is the three-edged needle. This is a thick, round-handled needle with a triangular shaft. It looks like a lance with a very sharp tip, and is used for bloodletting. Bloodletting is the process of allowing blood to flow from the body in a controlled way to treat disease like hemochromatosis and polycythemia.
There are also intradermal needles, which are very thin, short needles that are often used to treat chronic pain or addiction. They are inserted shallowly, often in the ears, left in place, and covered in waterproof tape. Press needles are very small needles that are pressed into the body, and held with a small sterilized surgical patch. These needles are used where long-term stimulation is required, and may be kept there for a week or more.
Electroacupuncture doesn't use standalone acupuncture needles at all. Instead, it attaches a pair of needles to an electronic device that continuously generates an electronic pulse between them. This type of acupuncture can also be called Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.