Learning Needle Technique – Best Practices and The Finer Points

a person inserting an acupuncture needleLearning how to efficiently and safely needle an acupuncture point is a paramount skill for an acupuncturist to learn. Besides being able to insert the needle into the right point in a way that causes as little discomfort as possible, it is also crucial that the student learns how to effectively stimulate the acupoint in a way that will bring about the desired effects for the treatment.

To the lay person with little knowledge of acupuncture, it looks like that an acupuncturist is merely inserting a needle into the skin. However, there is far more going on that just this. When needling, the practitioner needs to concentrate and be aware of different aspects of needle insertion to bring about an effective treatment.

Safety and Hygiene

The first consideration is hygiene. This is an extremely important as an acupuncturist, of course, does not want to cause an infection or contaminate their patient in any way. Nowadays, most if not all practitioners in the West use disposable needles. These acupuncture needles come pre-packaged and are one-time use only. Once the needle has been used and withdrawn, it is disposed of in a dedicated sharps disposal bin.

However, before needing, the acupuncturist must also be mindful first to prepare the patient and expose the parts of the body that require needling before treatment. The practitioner will then wash their hands and begin to locate and needle the acupuncture points.

Once the needle has been removed from its packaging, the acupuncture student needs to be mindful not to touch the shaft of the needle and only hold the needle by the handle. For longer needles, this can require some skill and practice as the needles are very thin and flexible and will, therefore, bend easily under pressure, especially when holding the needle at a distance by the handle. The focus is important to insert the needle smoothly without bending.


When it comes to needling an acupuncture point, the intention of the practitioner is one of the most overlooked areas. Having a clear, focused intention on what you are doing and a one-pointed single-mindedness of the outcome you want to achieve while inserting the needles is an essential part of the treatment as any other.

This is something that is hard to measure. However, experienced acupuncturists all over the world attest to the greater results achieved from an acupuncture treatment when they are focused and have a clear intention of the outcome they want to achieve.

To read more about the power of intention while needling a patient, please see this interesting article from Acupuncture Today.

Needle Technique

There are a number of different techniques a practitioner can use when needling a patient. Which method they use depends on the aim of their treatment and the desired outcome.

Generally speaking, when needling an acupoint, the practitioner is looking to either stimulate (also known as tonify) the point or disperse (also known as sedate) the point. This is based on the theory of the balance of the energetics. If there is a deficiency, then the practitioner will aim to tonify the point to promote nourishment and movement. However, if there is an excess condition, then they will often (but not always) be looking to sedate or disperse the point to bring about a balance of the energetics.

When applying tonification or sedation techniques, one common way to apply this it to twist the needle upon insertion. For tonification the practitioner will turn the needle clockwise; for sedation, the direction will be anticlockwise.

Another common sedation technique used by acupuncturists is to insert the needle and then begin to withdraw and insert the needle in rapid succession, with the stronger intention on the withdrawal motion. This technique helps to disperse any blockages and is commonly used for pain symptoms (known as a bi syndrome) where the nature of the pain is that of an excess condition.

Learning Point Location For Acupuncture

locating acupuncture pointsWhen studying acupuncture, point location is one of the most important classes as a deep understanding of the points used in acupuncture will form a solid foundation for effective treatment later on in practice.

The point location classes are far more than just learning the locations of the points. During these classes, we are also taught to feel for the points, examine the channel pathways and understand the uses and functions of the different points.

Locating the Acupuncture Points

Each of the acupuncture points are located along one of the twelve main meridians of the body. Each point is in a very specific location and a specific distance from the adjacent points along the meridian pathway. Typically, many of the points also have anatomical landmarks in or around the area of the points, which also help with locating. However, not all of them do have a distinguishable landmark. In these cases, we need to rely on the measurement from nearby landmarks to bring us as close as possible to the point. Once we are in the area, we then need to feel for the point.

Measuring For The Points

When locating the acupuncture points, a very precise measurement is used called a cun. A cun is a Chinese unit of measure that equates to the width of the person’s thumb at the base of the nail. So, for example, if we are are measuring on a patient, we consider the cun measurement to be the width of the patient’s thumb, not our own. This is because their body shape will most likely be different from ours.

To further clarify this, when measuring from the lateral epicondyle of the humerus to the wrist crease, the measurement is 12 cun. When locating point Th-6 (Three Heater/Triple Burner 6) for example, the point is located on the posterior aspect of the forearm; three cun from the wrist crease midway between the ulna and the radius.

For more information on cun measurements, click here.

Here is a good video explaining how to use the cun measurements to locate the acupuncture points.

Feeling For The Points

When locating the points, having a good degree of sensitivity is also important. When we are in the area of the point, we are taught to then feel for the precise location. Interestingly enough, the acupoints do indeed have a very slight and almost imperceptible depression at the site of the point. When running one’s finger over the point, one can often feel an ever so slight dragging feeling under the finger.

According to Chinese medical theory, the more open the point feels at the time of locating the point, the more the point has a need to be needled.

Point Functions And Energetics

One of the aspects of the point location classes that people most enjoy learning is gaining an understanding of the functions and the energetics of the points. Each point has a different nature and can, therefore, bring about different effects within the body. For example, the antique points are a collection of points which describe the movement of energy at the different points along the channel and can therefore, have a different effect in thy type of movement that they create within the meridian.

Understanding how and why different points and combinations of points are used is where they start to come to life. There are weekly tests to ensure we keep up to speed with our learning and understanding of the acupuncture points, their locations and their functions and how the points may be used in a treatment.