Acupuncturists rely on a large body of knowledge to decide where to place needles in their patients. This knowledge incorporates the teachings of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), an extensive assortment of traditional medical practices which has been used in Asia for centuries, along with education which is specific to acupuncture. Since acupuncture is a complex discipline, acupuncturists study for several years to ensure that they will serve their patients safely and effectively. Acupuncture is also a very old medical discipline; the earliest acupuncture text dates back to the third century BCE.
The first step in the acupuncture process is an interview, in which the practitioner will discuss the patient's primary complaint. The interview allows the practitioner to assess the patient's general health, attitude, and nature. Next, the acupuncturist physically inspects the patient, often using the tool of tongue diagnosis to gain valuable clues about the general health of the patient. During the examination the acupuncturist checks the patient's pulse, listens to his or her lungs, and performs other actions which may seem familiar to people who are experienced with Western medicinal treatment.
After the interview and examination, the acupuncturist comes up with a diagnosis. According to the principles of TCM, illness is caused by an imbalance of the body's energy. Acupuncture aims to realign this energy, freeing the flow of qi, or lifeforce, through the patient's body. As this energy is freed, the condition will hopefully resolve itself. Additional tools such as the burning of herbs, or moxibustion, may be used as well.
Acupuncturists rely on a system of meridians, lines of energy which flow through the body. There are 12 major meridians and eight minor ones, and acupuncture needles will be placed at various points in these meridians to free up energy. Each is associated with a particular organ, and each organ is considered responsible for different symptoms which can be treated with acupuncture at specific points. Acupuncturists use charts and established anatomical features to find meridians and acupuncture points on their clients. There are thousands of such points, with several hundred in common use by most acupuncturists.
The angle of a needle when it is inserted is also an important aspect of acupuncture. Once inserted, a needle may be twisted, tapped, or otherwise moved to promote a particular response. An acupuncture treatment is not generally painful, although tingling sensations may be experienced as energy is moved around the body. After a treatment, a patient usually feels energized, although sometimes a bit peculiar.