How Long Should Acupuncture Needles Be Left In?

January 3, 2023
2 mins

Acupuncture Points Mentioned in this Article

Have you ever wondered how long acupuncture needles should be left in during a treatment? Like most things in traditional Chinese medicine, the answer is that it depends. The duration of acupuncture needle retention varies based on the purpose of the treatment.

Time for Different Techniques

For simple Qi stimulation, only a few seconds are needed. Functional adjustments require several minutes. Acupuncture anesthesia may require several hours, while immune regulation may require several days. If acupuncture needles are used for other techniques, such as trigger point therapy or small needles, the retention time would be even shorter.

The Minimum Duration for Lasting Effect

While you should feel the effects of acupuncture almost instantly once the needles are inserted, for a lasting effect, they need to be retained for a minimum of 15 minutes. Therefore, in a clinical setting, the duration of acupuncture treatment depends on the doctor's decision. However, for most patients seeking pain relief through acupuncture, the standard duration is usually 15 minutes.

The Theoretical Rationale

According to the Huangdi Neijing, a classic Chinese medical text, it is suggested that an acupuncture session should last 28.8 minutes. In this seminal book considered the origin of Chinese medicine, it is written:

黃帝曰:余願聞五十營奈何?歧伯答曰:... 一萬三千五百息,氣行五十營於身

"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."

It can be thought that 13,500 breaths represented the time span of a day. If we calculate based on 24 hours in a day, which equals 1440 minutes, we find that 1440 divided by 50 meridians gives us ~29 minutes. This theoretical rationale suggests that an acupuncture session should ideally last 29 minutes to allow the circulation of vital energy throughout the body.

Today's Practice

In modern acupuncture appointments, the sessions generally align with this principle. A typical acupuncture appointment is about an hour long, including consultation and discussion. The actual treatment under acupuncture needles usually lasts only around 30 to 40 minutes.

However, the upper limit for needle retention is not firmly defined. It is not uncommon for patients to leave the clinic with needles still applied to their body, which they will remove later at home. Similarly, TCM physicians or staff may go about their day with needles on their heads.

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