How Deep Do Acupuncture Needles Go?


If you’ve never had acupuncture before, you may be feeling a bit nervous about your first appointment. Even though acupuncture involves the use of needles, the needles themselves are very thin, about the diameter of a hair, so most people only feel a small pinch as they’re inserted. Because acupuncture needles are so fine, acupuncture generally isn’t painful. But needles may be inserted to different depths depending on your body’s needs, as well as the location in which the needles are placed. So how deep do acupuncture needles go?

Acupuncture needles are typically placed at a depth of 1/16 inch to 1/2 inch. In some cases, needles may be placed 2 inches deep, or even deeper, to stimulate deep muscle tissue and release tension. 

What kind of needles are used in acupuncture?

When most people first think of acupuncture, they imagine large hypodermic needles being placed all across their body. It’s a scary thought and one of the main reasons why so many people avoid getting acupuncture in the first place. But, thankfully, it’s a huge misconception. 

Acupuncture needles are much different from the sorts of needles you would need if you were getting an injection. Acupuncture needles are considerably smaller. They’re just a bit thicker than a human hair, so they’re much less painful than hypodermic needles.

Acupuncture involves the use of dry needles, solid needles that are not designed to inject medications. The needles are fine and measure anywhere from .01 inch to .50 inch in diameter. Needles also come in various lengths, with shorter needles being used for shallow parts of the body, like the face and ears, and longer needles being applied to more muscular areas, like the back. 

Acupuncture needles are made of stainless steel, which means they’re both strong and sterile. Once a needle has been used, it’s disposed of, so you can rest easy knowing that the process is completely sanitary. Overall, acupuncture is a safe non-invasive therapy that is free of negative side effects. 

How far into the skin do acupuncture needles go?

In most cases, acupuncture needles don’t need to be placed very deep. The average depth is around 1/4 inch but can range anywhere from 1/16 inch to 1/2 inch. Once the needle has been inserted, your acupuncturist will use experience and “feel” to determine how deep the needle needs to go to maximize its effects. 

Again, in shallower parts of the body, the needles won’t be placed very deep. Many acupuncture trigger points can be found on the face, neck, ears, hands, and feet. These areas call for smaller needles. In some cases, we may even use more needles in these areas. But the needles won’t go that far into the skin. 

For athletes requiring sports acupuncture, and people suffering from musculoskeletal conditions like psoas pain or a quad strain, we may choose longer needles and place them more deeply. When large muscle groups are affected, there’s a greater chance of knots developing far into the muscle. Placing longer needles deeper into the corresponding acupuncture points helps improve circulation and release tension in these areas. 

During your acupuncture session, multiple issues can be addressed at once. For instance, if you’re struggling with bulging disc pain as well as carpal tunnel syndrome, we’ll work to improve both conditions all at the same time. This means we may rely on short and long acupuncture needles, placed at various depths, to alleviate your symptoms.

Why are acupuncture needles manipulated?

Once the needles have been placed, we may manipulate them throughout your session. This not only allows us to gauge how deep the needles need to be, but it also increases their effectiveness. Manipulating the needles periodically stimulates the nervous system, which helps ensure they do their job and you feel better at the end of your session. 

When we say “manipulate the needles”, what we really mean is gently turning them, or even adjusting their depth. This increases circulation bringing fresh red blood cells and oxygen to the needle site and the surrounding tissues. Sometimes, as tension is released during a session, we find we may need to push the needle in a bit deeper to get the muscles to relax even more. All of this is done on a case-by-case basis. 

In addition to the physical effects of needle manipulation, it’s also worth noting that acupuncture triggers the release of endorphins. These neurotransmitters promote a sense of well-being by increasing your pain threshold, reducing stress, and improving your mood. 

Needle manipulation can make your acupuncture session more successful. As the needles are adjusted, you may feel a dull ache or a sense of pressure. Many patients describe a heaviness around the needle site. This is normal and should go away once the needles are removed at the end of the session. 

How many acupuncture sessions do you need to see results?

How many sessions a client needs depends on several factors. First, the condition in question. Acute injuries, like a sprained ankle, may only need a short round of treatments. Say, once or twice weekly for a month or two. But ongoing issues, especially if they’re degenerative, like knee osteoarthritis, will most likely need routine treatments. 

Patients may visit our clinic for one thing, and discover that their problem has actually been caused by something that seems unconnected — maybe their shoulder blade pain is actually being caused by TMJ, or maybe their chronic migraines are the result of a pinched nerve

During each session, we’ll start by getting to the root of the client’s issues so we can treat them effectively. We also advise our clients as to how often they’ll need treatments, and how long they can expect the benefits of a session to last. In some cases, we may provide our clients with corrective exercises to improve their symptoms. 

Get in touch with us today

Hundreds of people are discovering the healing powers of acupuncture. If you’re ready to see for yourself what all of the hype is about, contact our office today to book a visit

At Lycoming Orthopedic & Sports Acupuncture, we treat our patients as the unique individuals they are. From your first visit, we’ll listen to your health concerns, and create a treatment plan that aligns with your wellness goals. 
In addition to acupuncture, we also offer dry needling, cupping, electrostimulation, and more. Ask us about our other therapies, and we’ll help you discover which ones will work best for you!

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