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Types of Acupuncture

Do you know which type of acupuncture your acupuncturist practises?

There are many schools of ‘traditional’ acupuncture round the world and they all have merits. Each can take years of training and suit particular kinds of problem.

In the West, there is also a modern type of acupuncture, usually called ‘dry needling’. Some doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and others use it. This style believes that only the nervous system is involved. 

Origins of Acupuncture

Some Sri Lankans assert that they have evidence of acupuncture practice in Sri Lanka long before it emerged in China. Indeed, they believe visiting Chinese scholars took the idea back to China, perhaps 10,000 years ago.

Be that as it may, China is where acupuncture took off! There is a long tradition, extending at least 3000 years of people using and theorising about it. 

One of the core texts was written around 2500 years ago, and is almost certainly compiled from the writings of quite a few authors. The wisdom and observations it discusses must have come from centuries if not millennia of experience.

That text (Huang di Neijing) has had many translations, and is still being pored over and newly interpreted nowadays.

It remains the core of Chinese medicine, and of other types of East Asian medicine and acupuncture, for instance those which developed in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

Studying in China
Jonathan, right, in clinic in Chinese hospital, Nanjing, China, 1982

At Lothian Acupuncture Jonathan has been practising acupuncture since the late 1970s, giving well over 43 years of experience, initially in London then in Edinburgh.

He has seen many thousands of patients, taught at various colleges and written a number of well-received books.

Over the years he has learned many different styles of types of acupuncture such as – in alphabetical order:

Types of Acupuncture

  • Abdominal acupuncture
  • Auricular (ear) acupuncture
  • Battlefield acupuncture
  • Channel style acupuncture
  • Cosmetic acupuncture
  • Drug withdrawal acupuncture
  • Electro-acupuncture
  • Five Element acupuncture
  • Head or scalp acupuncture
  • Japanese ‘Matsumoto’ style acupuncture
  • Korean ‘hand’ acupuncture
  • Master Tung acupuncture
  • Modern Chinese acupuncture
  • Dr Tan Balance system acupuncture
  • Tuina, a kind of pressure-point treatment along the acupuncture channels. It has some similarity to Shiatsu, a more well-known therapy from Japan. (Tuina is not actually a form of acupuncture but uses the underlying theory.)

Some of these ‘styles’ are very gentle, others more powerful, the latter usually being for strong pain.

Nearly everyone feels better from acupuncture, and benefits can start immediately or within a few days. But there are always some people who must persist for a while before they start feeling better.

Further Advice, and Help

Other matters your acupuncturist may be able to help you with:

  • Learning to meditate, meditation being a way to calm and steady your mind, and usually leads to better health
woman in black shirt and gray pants sitting on brown wooden bench
  • Advice on movement and exercise to get or stay healthy: think of Tai Chi and Yoga, but any regular form of movement helps – walking, for instance!
  • Learning the benefits of choosing and cooking food the Chinese way. How what you eat can transform your health.
  • The benefits of acupressure self-treatment, for example for reducing pain.

What happens during the treatment?

The first time you come can be the most important, not because that’s when you complete and sign any forms, but because if from your first consultation your acupuncturist can understand your health better, the treatment will work more quickly.

After you’ve explained what’s uppermost needing treatment, and based on any previous diagnosis, your acupuncturist may examine your tongue, take your pulse the Chinese way, and examine any areas that hurt.

He or she may then test the sore area by pressing somewhere else to see if there is a change in the pain.

Before needles are inserted, your acupuncturist will normally wash his or her hands. Sometimes alcoholic swabs wipe your skin clean.

If needles are chosen for treatment, depending on the style of acupuncture chosen, small acupuncture needles are chosen and unwrapped then carefully inserted: they may be manipulated a little to help them work better.

Sensation while the needles do their work

While and after the needles are in, you may feel heaviness or a cramp-like sensation. Sometimes you feel this not where the needle is but somewhere else, usually further along that acupuncture ‘channel’.

This is called ‘deqi’ (pronounced daychee). Quite often your acupuncturist notices this even before you and may ask you to confirm it.

However, not all kinds of acupuncture require this to work. For example, 5 Element acupuncture and Japanese channel treatment often don’t produce deqi.

Also, the lower your energy, the less likely you are to notice it. So older people or those more depleted by illness often don’t notice it to begin with.  

What that means is that as your health improves, you may start to sense it more.

Sometimes once the needles have ‘worked’ they are removed, but usually they are left in place for between 25 and 45 minutes.

Your acupuncturist may take your pulse from time to time or manipulate the needles again during this ‘cooking’ period, before removing them at the end.

Treatment Result?

Q. How does your acupuncturist know the needles have worked?

A. Often from changes in your pulse, or from observing you!

While you are ‘cooking’, it’s best if you doze lightly. Often relaxing music helps.

After use, acupuncture needles are placed in ‘Sharps’ boxes which go to special waste disposal facilities. Probably they are melted down and eventually become saucepans!

After treatment your acupuncturist may help you get up so you can get dressed, check you are OK to leave and arrange your next treatment.

Advice and Further treatment

Of course, there is advice for what happens next, but usually you return for your next treatment some days or weeks later, continuing until you feel much better.

Sometimes one treatment is enough. Sometimes half-a-dozen. Occasionally more, and some people return repeatedly to maintain health or catch any problem before it develops.

We see quite a few people with long-term chronic conditions, some with debilitating auto-immune problems who need regular treatment to keep on top.

Many people come several times a year. Some return only every few years, when they notice their health or energy fading a little, or after a period of illness, to help them recover faster.

On our sister site we list how Chinese medicine explains and treats many common diseases – see

Referrals and Reviews

You can often get a ‘feel’ for your acupuncturist by reading reviews online.

Or, if a friend gives you a recommendation that is often a good sign.

Link back to our What is Acupuncture page.

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Watch Jonathan talk about Kidney Yang Deficiency in our YouTube channel.