When you normally think of acupuncture, you think of a person sitting with several needles inserted into their skin, into parts of the body like the ear, the arm, or the wrist. This is a good picture of a patient that is having an acupuncture treatment. These treatments last anywhere from a very short time up to thirty minutes or more, depending on the symptoms that are being treated. These needles are more frequently inserted just far enough into the skin to firmly keep them there, though an acupuncture practitioner may insert different needles somewhat further in depending on the treatment plan. Sometimes the needles are twirled in place, sometimes they are warmed before insertion, or have heat applied to them during insertion. Generally there is no discomfort when a needle is inserted, manipulated, or removed. Occasionally a slight twinge may be felt, but not more than that. Often during treatment a patient may feel more relaxed than when they came in, slightly warmer, or possibly feel a rush of energy during the treatment. Some patients feel no change during the acupuncture treatment, but their symptoms gradually change over a longer period of time, such as several weeks.
There are variations of acupuncture that do not rely on the use of needles. The ideas behind these are identical with standard acupuncture technique. The knowledge of acupuncture points, the organization of the body, and the importance of proper energy flow for a healthy body are all exactly identical to standard acupuncture therapy. The main difference is that the needle is replaced by a different technique to manipulate the acupuncture point.
In sonopuncture, a device that produces sound waves is applied to the point at which a needle would normally be inserted. In addition to the device that produces the sound waves, other devices that vibrate may also be used, such as tuning forks. There is a good deal of activity in this area, but results using these devices is not as well established as the results with traditional needle based acupuncture.
Another technique that has been in use since the middle of this century is to apply a low voltage electric current to the acupuncture point. Sometimes this is done together with insertion of a needle, sometimes it is done just by touching a small wire to the surface of the skin and connect a very low electric current. The feeling of the current is a very light tingling, and not any very noticeable or painful reaction. This technique using electricity was pursued independently in America and Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, but interest in the technique as a part of western medicine waned after that time.
Another variation of acupuncture that many more people have heard of is the use of acupressure. In this technique no instrument is used, just the technique of pressing a finger on the acupuncture point. This technique can be incorporated into such manipulations as shiatsu massage. This technique is also easy for a layman to do, and many have seen little cards with diagrams of pressure points on the hands and feet. Though these may be useful, the best use is made when the person understands more of the entire system of acupuncture rather than just where the acupuncture points are.
Acupuncture therapy has been extended beyond needles, and interest is continuing in using other instruments. Other techniques include the use of heat (a very traditional choice), friction, magnets, suction, and to the ultra-modern use of laser beams. Acupuncture is a very adaptable therapy, which yields very good results.