How Deep Are Acupuncture Needles Inserted?

Acupuncture is a modality that involves using specific needles designed and crafted from stainless steel whereby they are inserted at specific locations called ‘acupuncture points’ in the body.


Traditionally originating from China, the primary reason behind this practice is said to “restore the normal flow of qi”. Qi is often explained as “life energy” that can influence and bring on good health. One common and popular belief based on how acupuncture may work is by “stimulating nerve and muscle cells”.


When determining the depth at which the acupuncture needle is inserted, there are several factors to consider. These factors include the location of the points, needle angle, body length, age, gender, and constitution.


Normally, needles are inserted from about ¼ to ½ inches in depth, depending on the point. When considering the acupuncture point, the back may be 2-3cm deep while the point on the forehead should only be a few millimeters deep. One study defined that the therapeutic depth over safety depth ratio (T/S ratio) is between 0.67 and 0.88.


For the bony areas of the face and neck, shallow needling is the most appropriate to avoid the needle from getting too close or down to the bone. Shallow needling is best for treating superficial ailments like a cold. For fatty or muscle areas, deeper insertion can be performed because of the muscle and fat layers under the skin. Deeper needling is applicable for treating more systemic or chronic health conditions.


When treating a patient suffering from sciatica, needles are normally inserted deeply in the buttocks along the pathway of the nerve. The purpose of this is to calm the sciatic nerve. A patient being treated for arthritis in their hands will require small gauge needles to be inserted shallowly on the points of the pain. If needles are inserted too deep, it can damage the blood vessels.


The safety and correct depth in needling for acupuncture therapy is a very important issue. It is crucial for a practitioner to exercise caution when needling high-risk body regions such as the spine, neck, head, and internal organs. The possibility that a needle will accidentally puncture a major blood vessel makes the patients concerned about their safety, but this can be avoided if handled with care. The proper depth and placement of needles can be performed by a licensed acupuncturist who spent years studying human anatomy and hands-on experience.


If you would like to consider acupuncture, find a well-experienced and licensed practitioner. Before getting into a treatment plan, the qualified practitioner will perform a thorough assessment of your condition.

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