Sometimes I treat a point at the surface of the skin using a
solid gold or silver tool (Chinese shi zhen, Japanese teishin,
“blunt needle”). For treating prepubescent children,
I use Japanese tools called shonishin (“children’s
needle”), which are not inserted, but are used to massage
and stimulate the meridians on the skin surface. Since these gold,
silver, copper and stainless steel tools are not inserted into the
body, they are cleaned and reused.
Depending on the symptoms and the general condition of the person
receiving a treatment, I usually insert between 5 and 20 needles
at a time. Because I usually use Japanese techniques, which are
gentler and more subtle than Chinese or Korean, the slender needles
must be inserted with a shinkan, or guide tube, a device
invented by a blind Japanese acupuncturist in the 17th century.
These days, many practitioners use guide tubes because it makes
insertion more comfortable for the patient, but it is not necessary
with the 32-guage needles commonly used in Chinese practice. Since
I usually use the thinner 40-guage for the basic treatment, the
shinkan helps keep the needles from bending.
The needles are inserted anywhere from 1/8 inch deep to 1 inch
or more, depending on the location on the body, the nature of the
point, the nature of the symptoms, and the technique being used.
Needles used at points on the wrist or the sides of the feet are
inserted very shallowly, as there is not much flesh, while pain
deep in the buttocks may necessitate a longer needle inserted several
Many times the insertion of the needle isn’t even noticed by the
patient; sometimes a mosquito-bite pricking may be felt, but it
passes very quickly as the needle goes through the skin layers.
Once the needle has been inserted, I gently twirl, flick or peck
the needle. Then the patient may feel sensations of warmth, coolness,
density, heaviness, expansion, movement, numbness, mild tingling
or cramping, or none of these; all are considered normal needle
sensations. The needles are left in place for 10-20 minutes while
the patient relaxes.
Most patients find acupuncture very calming and relaxing, and I’ve
had more than one patient say, “I can’t believe I fell asleep
with 15 needles in me!”