The Science of Acupuncture Needles

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Acupuncture needles are specialized needles used in acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that involves inserting these needles into specific points on the body to encourage the flow of energy and facilitate the healing process. Practitioners aim to draw out the “De Qi” sensation, a patient-reported feeling of a dull ache, tingling, or warmth around the needle site, thought to signify effective energy stimulation.

In the world of natural healing, acupuncture has been around for a really long time, especially in TCM. Let’s take a closer look at the science behind these needles, understanding what they’re made of and how they’re used.


What Kind of Needles Are Used for Acupuncture?

The needles used for acupuncture are typically thin, sterile, and made of stainless steel. These needles come in various sizes, with different gauges (thickness) and lengths, allowing practitioners to choose the most appropriate needle for a specific treatment or patient. The choice of needle size depends on factors such as the area of the body being treated, the patient’s sensitivity, and the specific acupuncture technique being employed.


How Big Are Acupuncture Needles?

These needles vary in size, and their dimensions are typically measured in terms of gauge and length. The gauge is represented by a numerical value, and the length is measured in millimeters. Here are some common ranges for acupuncture needle sizes:


These needles vary in gauge, denoted by numerical values, where lower numbers indicate thicker needles, which offer more substantial stimulation. Higher gauge numbers, conversely, represent thinner needles, suitable for delicate areas or patients with heightened sensitivity. Common gauges range from 36 (thicker) to 40 (thinner), allowing practitioners to customize treatments based on the desired effect and patient comfort.

Length and Treatment Areas

The length of these needles plays a crucial role in adapting to different treatment areas. Shorter needles (15-25 mm) find application in facial or shallow tissue treatments, while medium-length needles (30-40 mm) are appropriate for muscles and subcutaneous tissue. Longer needles (50 mm to 100 mm or more) are chosen for deeper points or areas with thicker muscle tissue, ensuring precise and effective stimulation based on the treatment requirements.


How Acupuncture Needles Work

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These needles work through the principles of TCM and the concept of Qi (pronounced “chee”)—the vital energy believed to flow through the body along specific pathways called meridians. The insertion of these needles at specific points along these meridians is thought to balance the flow of Qi that promotes health and well-being. Here’s a breakdown of how these needles work:

Stimulation of Acupuncture Points

Acupuncture points refer to precise locations on the body where the Qi flow can be influenced. By inserting needles into these points, acupuncturists seek to stimulate and balance the energy flow associated with various organs and bodily functions.

Microtrauma and Cellular Response

The insertion of these needles causes microtrauma at the needle site. This minor injury prompts the body to initiate a healing response. Cellular mechanisms, including the release of natural substances like endorphins and immune system modulators, may contribute to the therapeutic effects of acupuncture.

Nervous System Modulation

Acupuncture is believed to influence the nervous system. The stimulation of acupuncture points may activate sensory nerves, transmitting signals to the brain. As a result, this can trigger the release of neurotransmitters, affecting pain perception, mood, and other physiological processes.

Blood Circulation Enhancement

Acupuncture has been associated with improved blood circulation in the treated areas. This enhanced blood flow can contribute to tissue repair, reduce inflammation, and support overall healing processes.

Balancing Yin and Yang

According to TCM principles, achieving and maintaining a harmonious balance between the contrasting influences of Yin and Yang is fundamental to overall health and well-being. Acupuncture is thought to restore this balance by regulating the flow of Qi.



How long should acupuncture needles stay in?

The duration of the insertion of acupuncture needles varies depending on the particular treatment plan and the acupuncturist’s approach. Generally, needles are left in place for about 15 to 30 minutes, but this can be shorter or longer based on the desired therapeutic effect. Some acupuncture techniques involve manipulating the needles to stimulate energy flow, while others may require a more stationary approach. 

Can you use needles more than once?

In modern acupuncture practice, the use of disposable, single-use needles is the standard to ensure hygiene and prevent the risk of infections. Reusing these needles is not considered safe, as it poses a potential risk of cross-contamination. Disposable needles are individually packaged and sterile, and they are discarded after a single use. This practice aligns with health and safety standards to protect both practitioners and patients.

How many acupuncture needles are typically used in one session?

The number of acupuncture needles used in a session can vary widely based on the treatment plan and the individual needs of the patient. On average, an acupuncture session may involve the insertion of 4 to 10 needles, although this can be more or fewer depending on the specific condition being addressed.

What happens if an acupuncture needle goes too deep?

While acupuncturists are trained to insert needles accurately at specific depths, complications such as unintentional deep insertion may occur in rare cases. If a needle goes too deep, it may interact with underlying structures like blood vessels, nerves, or organs. This can potentially cause discomfort, bruising, or, in extremely rare cases, injury. Acupuncturists undergo extensive training to minimize the risk of such occurrences. 



The science of acupuncture needles is deeply rooted in TCM, and their application involves a delicate balance of ancient principles and modern understanding. The sizes and techniques associated with these needles underscore the precision and customization involved in this therapeutic practice. From the choice of needle gauge and length to the intricate workings of stimulation at acupuncture points, the practice embraces a holistic approach to promoting well-being.

At Bradenton Acupuncture & Wellness, we prioritize your well-being through personalized acupuncture sessions. Our experienced acupuncturists conduct thorough assessments to tailor treatments to your specific health needs. Schedule your appointment with us today.

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