If a person only knows one thing about acupuncture, it’s probably the needles. Of course, this is everything that some people need to know. Just the thought of needles is enough to conjure up bad memories of painful childhood vaccinations. Fortunately for anyone considering acupuncture, this is an unrealistic fear- the tools we use are miniscule compared even to the smallest of syringes and rarely cause discomfort.
In the hopes of banishing fear with a little knowledge, here is a bit more information about the tools of acupuncture.
Acupuncture needles vary in size from around .18 to .51 millimeters. To put this into perspective, the smaller needles are four and a half times thinner than the most commonly used syringe size, and even the biggest ones are incredibly thin. Since the needle is not injecting or removing anything, it doesn’t need to be hollow and can be much smaller. Most are quite short as well, and the ones that I use are usually between half an inch and one and a half inches long. The bigger ones are used in meaty areas of the body, like the legs and butt, where it is necessary to reach deeper beneath the skin. The smallest needles might be used in the webbing between fingers, or for people who are more sensitive.
The needles are made out of stainless steel (although some people use gold or silver) and have a handle that can be either metal or plastic. Some practitioners hold that metal handles allow for a better flow of energy between patient and practitioner; I find them most useful for moxibustion, where a plastic handle would inhibit the flow of warmth from the needle into the patient. Either way, they are thoroughly sterilized in the factory, sealed for packaging and are never reused. Used needles go into a sharps container and are disposed-of as biomedical waste, so there is no possibility of having one that is dirty or infected.
Of course, a fear of needles is a turn off that some people won’t be able to get over, no matter how innocuous the instruments are. Still, anyone that can gather the courage to get regular vaccinations will find that tiny little acupuncture needles hold no fear and, even better, no pain.