It is safe to say that the Chinese Medical Model dates back to antiquity. While accounts vary on the exact age of Chinese Medicine (some sources suggest 5000 years old or more) acupuncture is comparatively recent. We know this simply because the technology to make needles is relatively new. Most likely, as the medical system evolved from channels to specific points on the channel, the idea of manipulating the individual points also evolved.
Early needles were most likely sharpened stones called bian shi and were originally used for blood-letting. Throughout time, as technology advanced, so did the needles. They became metal and today they are extremely fine, sterile, filiform (solid) and made from surgical grade stainless steel. Unlike a hypodermic needle, which is hollow, they are neither putting anything into nor are they removing anything from the body.
In a modern acupuncture clinic, clinicians will employ a variety of techniques to help out the patient. These include acupuncture, moxibustion, bodywork, gua sha (a dermal friction technique used to remove stagnation and break up obstructions), cupping, herbal therapy, supplement therapy, dietary advice, lifestyle advice and qi gong (movement therapy).
Acupuncture is the insertion of these filiform needles into various points along the acupuncture channels. These channels run throughout the body. Each channel is associated with a major organ system.
Points are chosen given a variety of criteria, including an extensive patient intake/health history review, signs and symptoms, observation of the tongue and pulse, channel and abdominal palpation. Patterns begin to emerge within the patient and the needles are placed based on the pattern. Treatments are custom tailored to the patient’s needs, and two different patients would rarely get the same point prescription. There are many different styles of acupuncture, including both Chinese and Japanese needling techniques, and ear acupuncture.
Needles are usually placed between the foot and knee or hand and elbow. However, they are also placed on the abdomen, shoulders, hips or back. In these cases, draping with towels or sheets is employed to maintain the modesty of the patient.