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How deep does the needle enter the skin? Is it dangerous to go deep?

The depth of needle insertion depends both on the location of the point and also on the style of treatment.

Most points are needled to a depth of between 3mm and 5mm, with some in quite bony places, like fingers and toes, slightly less, and some in the hip and buttock a considerable amount more, as much as 1 to 2 cm.  Although it is difficult to make generalisations about styles, many Japanese styles of acupuncture use superficial needle insertions almost everywhere on the body, often using quite oblique insertion, whereas some of the medical acupuncture techniques are much more invasive, often needling to a depth of an inch or more.

Practitioners are usually guided by the sense of contacting the energy of the patient, and if this is achieved at relatively superficial levels that is far as they will needle.

A:  Inserting anything deeply into the body is potentially dangerous, which is why we regard our degree level training as the minimum requirement for the safe practice of acupuncture. This is why we take issue with short courses and people who decide to 'have a go'; needling safely and without risk of infection requires attention to a more detail than can be bolted on to short courses. 

There are some areas of the body where deep needling is especially risky, but thousands of years of practice and experience of the variation in the shapes and sizes of patients has led to some very specific guidelines for how deeply to needle and at what sorts of angles. Deep needling is particularly dangerous on the thorax, and along with the two leading medical acupuncture organisations we have created a website which has a safety chart to encourage safe practice by health professionals who decide to add acupuncture to their repertoire. Needling in this area requires oblique insertion of needles, and extreme care in needling  the elderly, the thin and those with a history of bronchial problems.

In the hands of a fully trained and qualified professional you are safe. The number of serious adverse events each year is very small indeed when you think that over 4,000,000 treatments are administered, with only a dozen or so requiring more than short term first aid. However, our aim is to bring this number down even smaller, which is why we are combining with our medical colleagues to make acupuncture one of the safest healthcare modalities around.  

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