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Acupuncture Overview

Acupuncture Points and Acupuncture Needles

Acupuncture, like any type of treatment, begins with a consultation. The acupuncturist will ask about your medical history and any conditions you're currently experiencing. Then, he or she will examine you and identify the organ(s) involved in your problem.

The next step is to map the pressure points on the appropriate meridian(s) that correspond to your ailment.

Twelve main meridians run throughout the body. Each meridian contains a number of pressure points. To represent each point, the initials of the meridian are followed by a number (e.g., LI 19 or GB 1).

Bladder (UB)

Gall bladder (GB)
Heart (HT)

Kidney (KD)

Liver (LV)

Lung (LU)

Large intestine (LI)

Pericardium (PC)
Small intestine (SI)

Spleen (SP)

Stomach (ST)
Triple heater (TH)

Needles may be placed in the immediate area of the problem, or at distant sites in other parts of the body. For example, low-back pain is treated by stimulating acupoint UB 54 in the bladder meridian. Often, points in different areas of the body (front and back, left and right side, or above and below the waist) are stimulated simultaneously to increase the treatment effectiveness.

What You Can Expect During Acupuncture

When the acupuncturist is ready to begin your treatment, he or she will swab the chosen points on your body with alcohol or another disinfectant to cleanse the area, and will then insert between three and 15 needles in your skin. How deep the needles go can vary from less than a quarter of an inch to three inches.

acupuncture needles
Photo courtesy of Dreamstime
Acupuncture needles
The needles are hair-thin and made of solid stainless steel. You may feel slight pain while the needles are inserted, but once they're in the skin, you shouldn't feel any discomfort. Some people say they feel relaxed during an acupuncture treatment.

The needles will stay in your body from 5 to 20 minutes. While the needles are in your skin, the acupuncturist may twirl, heat, or electrically stimulate them.

Most people have acupuncture once a week for about 12 weeks, although the number of sessions can vary depending on the problem being treated. In the beginning, you may have to visit more often, and then, as your symptoms improve, you can begin spacing the visits further and further apart.

How much your treatment costs will depend on the acupuncturist's experience, the number of treatments, and the city in which you live, but the typical range is $60 to $120 per session. Many private insurance companies will cover the cost, but Medicare will not pay for acupuncture.