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Historic Points: Acupuncture Needles
By: Diane Joswick, L.Ac., MSOM

Ever wonder where acupuncture needles came from, how they evolved, and how they're used today?

Here are some highlights from the history of these ancient healing devices, which are still widely and effectively used today:

  • The earliest acupuncture devices were made of stone. These were not used to pierce the skin, but rather to press on acupuncture points.
  • Historians presume that before metal needles; thorns, bamboo slivers, or sharpened bone were used to stimulate acupuncture points.
  • The oldest acupuncture needles found date to A.D. 600. These needles were made of bronze, copper, tin, gold, and silver.
  • In the fourth century A.D., China began using steel. Once steel was discovered, it became the most favored material for crafting acupuncture needles because it is both very strong and can be used to make very thin needles.
  • In the 17th century, Waichi Sugiyama - a famous blind acupuncturist from Japan- invented the guide tube which resulted in the development of much finer needles.
  • The acupuncture needles most commonly used in present-day practice are made of stainless steel of a very fine diameter (approximately 0.015"). These are pre-packaged, sterilized, and disposable.
  • In The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (one of the original Chinese medicine textbooks), nine different types of needles are mentioned as being used for acupuncture treatments. Each one had a different tip and a precise length and width.
  • Studies have shown that acupuncture points have significantly more electrical conductivity than areas of skin without acupuncture points.
  • In 1995, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified acupuncture needles as medical instruments, assuring their safety and effectiveness.
  • According to a National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the past, and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year.
  • Usually needles are inserted from 1/4 to 1 inch in depth. Depth of insertion will depend on the patient's size, age, constitution, and the nature of the condition being treated.
  • A popular acupuncture point for treating sciatica is located on the buttocks. An acupuncture needle is usually inserted three to four inches into this acupuncture point.