There are various acupuncture treatments available, although the most well known is the insertion of needles at key points in the body.
As with any form of medicine, the first part of acupuncture treatment is the case history and examination. However, prior to embarking on any form of acupuncture treatment, the therapist will conduct an examination that is quite different from that we are used to from western doctors.
The areas that they examine include a detailed examination of the tongue, where they look at the shape, coating, and colour, an examination of the colour of the face, and a detailed manual analysis of the pulse - this is not simply the pulse rate, but also the strength, rhythm, and quality of the pulse.
Finally, the therapist will palpate the body to find points of pain (also known as trigger points).
Once the examination is complete the therapist will choose among the different options to treat the patient. The one we are most familiar with is the insertion of needles. Between four and 10 points are usually used in a single session. The length of time they are left in place typically varies from 10 to 30 minutes, although some practitioners needle for only a few seconds or minutes.
In addition, the therapist may stimulate the needles by manual twirling or with a small electrical current.
People often ask what the needles feel like - the truth is that they are extremely fine and do not hurt at all - indeed, it is quite possible to not even know that the needle has been inserted. Thus many patients find this to be a very relaxing experience.
Other methods include moxibustion (burning a herb just above the surface of the skin), massage, cupping, herbal preparations, and exercises.