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Modalities beyond acupuncture in Chinese Medicine

Modalities Beyond Acupuncture In Chinese Medicine — Acupuncture Treatment Needles And More

Acupuncture Treatment: Needles and More

Curious about acupuncture, but worried about the needles? We talked to Meghan Mabe, DCM, LAc about why practitioners of East Asian medicine use needles, and other modalities that can be part of an acupuncture treatment.

When you think acupuncture, you probably think one thing: needles. You might be surprised to find out that the term “acupuncture” is part of the bigger system of medicine: Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine includes acupuncture, diet, herbal therapy, meditation, movement, and massage (Tui Na).

Practitioners of East Asian Medicine use different modalities in treatments depending on what best fits the patient. There are even ways to treat patients without needles: common for children or people who are anxious about needles.

Why needles…and do they hurt?

Acupuncture is the insertion of thin needles at specific points of the body. Why? Points on acupuncture channels help practitioners affect the entire body through an intricate system. In the language of Chinese medicine, needling can move qi, nourish deficiencies, and clear excesses. What this means for you varies widely: Chinese medicine can address everything from chronic pain, to allergies, to grief.

In biomedical terms, acupuncture increases blood flow and oxygen to muscles and organs and helps to balance the gut-brain axis and nervous system. Dr. Mabe shared that for many patients, stress or overstimulation is a key piece of the story.

“A lot of times we have an overactive sympathetic nervous system because of our lives. People are running and rushing everywhere,” she explained. “We see more disease, or people that aren’t well, when they’re overstimulated. What acupuncture can do is bring that nervous system to a parasympathetic, or ‘rest and digest’ state, so that digestion can improve, pain can be reduced, and mental health can be balanced.”

Do they hurt? Most patients feel either nothing at all or mild discomfort when the needles go in. You might feel a dull ache when the needle is fully inserted, which is often a good sign! Unlike the bigger needles used for shots and blood draws at your doctor’s office, these needles are about the size of a strand of hair.

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What other tools do acupuncturists use?

Acupuncturists will often use other modalities during your treatment, generally in addition to needles. Some common modalities include:


In this popular treatment, glass cups are placed on your back (or sometimes your chest for lung symptoms), using fire to create suction. Cupping helps with pain, inflammation, and blood flow. “It relaxes the muscle tissue and fascia around the tissue so that blood flow and oxygen can get to the muscles better,” Mabe said.

Gua Sha

Not just a new beauty trend, Gua Sha involves scraping the skin with a smooth tool. “One of the most common uses for Gua Sha is to treat acute cough, sore throat, sinus congestion, and fever. In addition, Gua Sha can benefit the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body. It can bring blood flow to areas of tension and reduce pain.

Tui Na

Tui Na is a very intentional type of massage that follows Chinese Medicine theories. “In Chinese Medicine, there are channels that we follow when we treat,” Mabe said.

“For example, on the back there is a bilateral channel on both sides of the spine called the urinary bladder channel, which is really good to help relieve back pain and tonify different organ systems. If someone has stagnation or back pain, we’d dredge the channels using specific techniques, like flicking of our hands or using round rubbing motions, to release the blockage in the channel.”


A warming treatment, where mugwort is burned over acupuncture points or needles. The smell is quite potent with this treatment, but it does not hurt.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Some acupuncturists are also trained in Chinese Herbal Medicine and can prescribe personalized herbs to enhance your treatment. “They are prescribed via a specific formula for that particular patient, so not everyone would have the same prescription,” Dr. Mabe explained. “Herbal formulas can help to restore energy, balance the body, and nourish the blood.”

Chinese Medicine is a very individualized medicine. Y, so your treatment could include different combinations of acupuncture modalities and herbal medicine, depending on your symptoms and overall presentation.

“Combining these different modalities really helps to have a complete whole treatment that not only addresses the specific symptom, but also can address the underlying conditions, too,” Mabe said.

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What about children and people who are scared of needles?

Acupressure is often used for children, individuals who aren’t ready for needles, or those who may have sensitivity. Rather than inserting a needle in a point, acupressure is simply using your finger to apply pressure. Its effects are similar to acupuncture, however, it is less effective than stimulating a point with needles.

Acupressure can also be done on your own outside of appointments. For example, one of the common points, Large Intestine 4, is found in the webbing between your thumb and pointer finger.

“That point can help with headaches, but that point itself relieves pain in general and is a pretty intense point,” Mabe said. “It’s a moving point so it can regulate bowel movements, too. There’s a lot it can be used for, but it would typically be a headache point or used to relieve some type of pain in the body.”

Ready to experience how all the modalities of acupuncture can help you feel and live better? Call today at 952-885-5444 to schedule an appointment.