A needle is a long and slender medical tool to be used to treat diseases in humans and animals. According to various historical facts, acupuncture, which is the treatment of a person’s illness or pain by sticking needles into the body, was originally systematized in China. It is guessed that needles were first used in the Stone Age. The oldest acupuncture tool is a stone needle, which was made by grinding a stone or a jade into an awl or a wedge. Such a stone needle was used to stimulate the skin, to cause bleeding through shallow pricking or to squeeze the pus out. In ancient primitive society, people might have suffered from various kinds of aches, pains, and wounds as they lived in hilly or dark and humid area. Considering this, we can presume how a stone needle must have been used. Traditionally used needle are largely divided into nine classical needles according to size, shape and use -shear needle, round-pointed needle, spoon needle, lance needle, stiletto needle, round-sharp needle, filiform needle, long needle, and big needle. In general, needles are used to prick the skin or muscle, deep or shallow, sometimes to squeeze out blood or pus by cutting the skin with a knife-like needle, or to draw water out from a joint. Among these nine classical needles, filiform needles are used most widely in acupuncture, because they are 2-17cm long and 0.2-0.4mm thick, and relatively thin. They can be left partially in the skin for a while without irritation. There are several other types of needles used today which are as follows:
- Intradermal needle: a small needle for embedding in the skin
- Electric needle: a needle that combines acupuncture stimulus and electric stimulus
- Herbal acupuncture: a method that combines the effect of acupuncture and herb
- Skin needle (plum-blossom needle, seven star needle, baby needle): a needle that is designed to stick 5-8 needles simultaneously for stimulating the skin
- Ear (auricular) acupuncture: attaching a seed or a small pig tail needle on the ear
- Laser acupuncture: a new therapy using laser beam as a needle
- Depending on the site to which needles are applied, various kinds of needles are developed and used – needles for ear acupuncture, facial acupuncture, nose acupuncture, head(scalp) acupuncture, hand acupuncture, foot acupuncture, and body acupuncture.
Acupuncture has been used to treat all kinds of diseases including internal, surgical, gynecologic, pediatric, otorhinolaryngologic, and ophthalmologic disease by controlling the flow of qi. It has also been used for anesthesia, diagnosis and the treatment of animals. In addition, acupuncture therapy is used to aid in smoking cessation. Acupuncture shows a quick relief and recovery effect in sprains, indigestion, children’s convulsion and acute diseases such as tonsillitis, conjunctivitis and syncope. For chronic diseases such as neuralgia, gastroparesis, hemiplegia caused by paralysis, and dysphasia, long term treatment is required to produce satisfactory results.
1. Ear (Auricular) acupuncture
Ear acupuncture treats diseases in various parts of the human body by putting needles into certain points of the ear. It has been developed into an extensively used therapy, based on ancient Oriental medicine. Since long ago, there have been people who had their ears pierced and put on earrings for fashion. This is a kind of ear acupuncture, and is effective in treating ophthalmologic disease. There have been folk therapies that treat conjunctivitis by pricking the earlobe with needles or pharyngolaryngitis caused by a cold through pricking a certain point behind the ear with needles. Today’s ear acupuncture was developed by a French physician P. Nogier. Learning that his patient’s back pains and leg pains had disappeared after the patient got burnt in the ear, he applied it clinically and attained satisfactory results. He reported the success of his treatment to the conference of the International Acupuncture & Moxibustion Society in Marseille, France in 1956, and as a result, it was the official beginning of ear acupuncture treatment. Dr. P. Nogier understood the anatomical characteristics of the ear and observed that certain points on the external ear responded to disease in the five viscera and six bowels. He explored, measured and systematized the distribution and the exact positions of the ear point. As the appearance of the external ear points looked like a fetus upside down, he based his research on his findings. These days, ear acupuncture is being utilized in clinics in various ways, and has been found effective in relieving pains and symptoms in the nervous system, endocrine system, and other illnesses. Ear acupuncture is also used to end smoking habits.
2. Hand and Foot Acupuncture
Hand and foot acupuncture is a kind of acupuncture therapy and treats diseases by applying needles to acupoints on the hands or feet. There are two basic principles related to hand and foot acupuncture. One principle is that each part of the human body represents the whole body. That is, the face contains points connected to the organs and systems of the body, and each of the ears, the hands and the feet have points reacting to their corresponding parts of the body. Accordingly, if there happens to be a disorder in an organ can be treated by pricking and stimulating a specific point on the hand or the foot linked to the organ. The other principle is that the hands and feet are key parts for facilitating the circulation of qi and blood through the whole body. There are five important acupuncture points, called five transport points, in each median from the fingertip to the elbow and from the tip of the toe to the knee. Those acupuncture points are linked to internal organs corresponding to the meridians and collaterals. Using the acupuncture points, we can treat diseases in the whole body by applying acupuncture to the hand and foot.
3. Herbal Acupuncture
Herbal acupuncture is also called phamarcoacupuncture, water acupuncture or acupoint injection therapy. Based on the meridian and collateral theory, medicinal herb extract is injected into acupoints and thus, treatment is done through the combined effects of acupuncture and herbal medicine. From ancient times, in treating patients, oriental medical therapies have emphasized the use of acupuncture as the first part of treatment, moxibustion, as the second, and herbal medicine as the third. Acupuncture is an external therapy that stimulates the body from the outside, and herbal medicinal treatment is an internal therapy that stimulates internal organs from the inside. The two types of therapies can be applied separately or together. Recently, however, herbal acupuncture, which is a combination of herbal medicine and acupuncture, begins to be spotlighted in response to the practical needs of higher effective treatment including the expansion of the areas of KOM. Herbal acupuncture therapy consists of injecting substances extracted from herbs into key acupoints. Of course, the stimulation of acupoints alone can produce positive effects, but the additional injection of specific herbal medicines into the acupoints increases the effect considerably. The Korean Oriental Medical Society is making efforts to research and spread herbal acupuncture through its Subdivision of Herbal Acupuncture. The new herbal acupuncture is under development not only in Korea but also, in China, North Korea, and Japan. It will be researched and developed into a high-tech therapy of Korean Medicine, and advanced even further through international collaboration.
4. Laser Acupuncture
Laser acupuncture is a type of acupuncture therapy that uses laser beam. It was initiated by Inuyshin in Russia in the early 1970s. He applied very weak laser to the skin and found that it produced effects such as vasodilatation, pain alleviation and anti-inflammation. Since then there have been various clinical reports and theses on animal experiments in China, Germany, and Austria as well as in Korea. The principle of laser acupuncture is simple. If a laser beam is concentrated on an acupoint, reaction to the laser beam and stimulation of electromagnetic field on the spot makes changes in the meridian and collateral system of the body. Laser treatment is known to regulate the uneven circulation of qi and blood and facilitate biological functions. One of the main advantages of laser acupuncture is that the patient does not feel pain during treatment. In general, acupuncture involves some pain in the patients, but laser acupuncture is painless, though it may be slightly prickly to sensitive persons. What is more, it does not leave any marks after treatment, and is safe and free of side effects because it does not contact the skin directly. Besides, it takes only a short time and can conveniently control the intensity of stimulation. Laser acupuncture is applied frequently to dermatologic, internal and pediatric diseases, and also to almost every area of acupuncture and moxibustion.
5. Acupuncture Anesthesia
Acupuncture anesthesia, a branch of acupuncture and moxibustion that has been developed based on clinical practices of acupuncture, is an anesthetizing method that numbs a specific part of the body by pricking the part with a needle and allows surgery while the patient remains conscious. This process was developed from the traditional effect of acupuncture. Looking back on history, it has been recorded in Huhanseo, Samgukji and other medical books that a noted doctor, Hwata, during the Period of the late Han Dynasty in China, used anesthesia in surgery. As to the mechanism of acupuncture anesthesia, various theories have been suggested, including the phenomenon of meridian transmission, gate control theory, neuro-endocrine therapy, and the hypnosis principle, of which only some have been supported. Some of them have been supported but others have not been fully explained yet. One of the characteristics of acupuncture anesthesia is in its safety. While the use of anesthetic is likely to cause side effects, acupuncture anesthesia has little risk of side effects in the functions of organs. Therefore, it is reported that there have been no grave accidents caused by acupuncture anesthesia. Second, it does not disrupt the balance of physiological mechanisms. Acupuncture regulates various body functions, and if acupuncture anesthesia is used in surgery, the patient’s various physiological functions are intact and postoperative recovery is also fast. Third, because the patient is conscious during surgery, he or she can give active cooperation. For example, in finger surgery, the doctor can have the patient move the finger to see the effect of surgery. Fourth, acupuncture anesthesia does not need expensive and complicated special equipments, so it is convenient and economically efficient. However, the downside is that it may result in the tension of internal organs due to incomplete pain killing or muscular relaxation. Acupuncture anesthesia was attempted by Kyunghee University and the National medical center. It is being spotlighted as a new area of acupuncture and moxibustion by both Oriental and Western medicine, but there are still many problems to be solved through research in the future.