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What are the Different Types of Acupuncture Needles?

By P.S. Jones
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By anon925342 — On Jan 11, 2014

I do self acupuncture following initial sessions with my doctor. In my case I have chronic pain from systemic arthritis and it helps to reduce the number of pain meds I need. It's meant I can still work rather than becoming a burden on the state. It's also helping to alleviate migraine pain following a Humira injection.

By John57 — On Oct 18, 2011

I have often thought about trying acupuncture to help with frequent headaches. It seems like nothing else I have tried has really worked, and I would like to see if this would help.

Thinking about the needles doesn't really bother me too much. I have talked to people who have had acupuncture done and they say it isn't a big deal.

I had a boss who had some treatments for carpal tunnel in her hand. I think she felt some relief after a few treatments.

There are also some professionals who use acupuncture for animals that are in pain. My dog is getting older and has troubles with arthritis, and I wonder if this is something that would help her too.

By JaneAir — On Oct 17, 2011

I don't think I would want to use intradermal needles or press needles. The idea of having acupuncture at all kind of freaks me out. I don't think I would like to walk around with needles just sitting in my skin.

I think if I ever develop chronic pain or something like that I'll look for a different kind of treatment!

By strawCake — On Oct 16, 2011

@Monika - I think I would feel a lot safer with needles that came out of a wrapper too. I assume that with the silver and gold needles, acupuncturists probably reuse them. I doubt something made out of gold is meant to be used only once!

I think this would make me a bit nervous. What if their sterilization procedures weren't correct? I'm sure most acupuncturists would do a fine job of sterilizing their needles, but it only takes one mistake to give someone a blood-borne disease!

By Monika — On Oct 16, 2011

I've had acupuncture done before, but my acupuncturist just used the metal filiform needles. I was pretty relieved at the time by how small and unassuming they looked-I'm not a big fan of needles.

I remember I used to always watch my acupuncturist get the needle out of its plastic wrapper and dispose of them in a biohazard container after use. I always felt more comfortable, knowing my acupuncturist had good safety practices.

The acupuncturist I went to always used the plastic guide that came with the needle to insert them. She would kind of put the whole thing over where it was supposed to go, and gently push down on the needle. She said the guide was helpful to know exactly how far she should insert the needle into the skin.

By David09 — On Oct 15, 2011

@Mammmood - I’ve never tried acupuncture. However, if I were to go in for treatment of any kind, it would be to treat some mild carpal tunnel. I’ve heard that the treatment works well for that.

Further, if I had my choice of treatments, as a beginner I’d like to start out with the electroacupuncture treatment. To me, this sounds like it would be the perfect cure, allowing needles to deliver a steady massage of pulses to my hand muscles.

I know that massaging generally works to reduce the pain so I’d be more confident in this treatment than in any other.

By Mammmood — On Oct 15, 2011

I had no idea that anyone practiced bloodletting nowadays, in any way or manner. When I read that in the article my mind went back to the old days of medicine when people thought they could treat people by letting them bleed a little, or a lot.

It turns out that in fact bloodletting is used in some forms of diabetes treatment. I guess this is a situation where the trained assistance of a skilled acupuncturist would be called upon, although the particular needle mentioned to perform that operation strikes me as being a little too sharp (a mini spear?).

I guess the Chinese acupuncture needles get the job done.

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