How Long Should Acupuncture Needles Be Left In?

January 3, 2023
2 mins

Acupuncture Points Mentioned in this Article

Acupuncture needles should typically be left in for 15 to 40 minutes. The prick of a needle, a momentary sensation, and then a deep relaxation. Acupuncture, an age-old therapeutic technique, has always piqued interest regarding its methods, especially one common question: how long should the needles actually stay in?

Time for Different Techniques:

Acupuncture needle retention varies by technique, from seconds to several minutes. The duration of acupuncture needle retention isn't one-size-fits-all. It varies based on the purpose of the treatment.

  • Qi stimulation, which refers to the body's vital energy, only a few seconds are needed.
  • Functional adjustments may take several minutes.

If acupuncture needles are used for specialized techniques like trigger point therapy or with smaller needles, the retention time can be even shorter.

Minimum Duration of Acupuncture for Lasting Effect: 15 Minutes

For lasting effects, acupuncture needles should be retained for at least 15 minutes. Instantaneous effects are common with acupuncture; as soon as the needles penetrate the skin, a response is often felt. But for the impact to be lasting, it's generally recommended that the needles be retained for at least 15 minutes. In a clinical setting, the duration is often based on the acupuncturist's discretion. Yet, for many patients seeking pain relief, a standard duration is approximately 15 minutes.

Ancient Acupuncture Literature Says: 29 Minutes

Ancient acupuncture literature suggests a session length of about 29 minutes. Delving into ancient Chinese literature, the Huangdi Neijing provides some guidance on this topic. This foundational text of Chinese medicine mentions:

"Yellow Emperor: I want to know how the fifty meridians work. Qibo replied: ...a total of 13,500 breaths circulate through the fifty meridians in the body."

These meridians are pathways in the body through which energy flows. The 13,500 breaths are symbolic of a day's time. Doing the math based on 24 hours in a day, which equals 1440 minutes, and dividing by the 50 meridians, we get roughly 29 minutes.

This calculation suggests that an acupuncture session should last about 29 minutes to allow vital energy to flow through the body effectively.

Today's Practice

Contemporary acupuncture sessions typically last 30 to 40 minutes for needle retention. A typical session lasts about an hour, with consultation and discussion included. The actual time spent with needles in place is usually between 30 to 40 minutes. However, there isn't a strict upper limit.

It's not rare for patients to depart from the clinic with needles still in place, removing them later at home. Similarly, TCM practitioners might carry on with their day with needles inserted in specific points on their bodies.

While ancient texts provide guidance, modern practices also play a role in determining needle retention times in acupuncture. For those curious or considering treatment, always consult a trained acupuncturist to understand what's best for your individual needs.

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