Learning 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 Once the needle has been used and withdrawn, it is disposed of in a dedicated sharps disposal bin.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.
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.