An acupuncturist will perform a patient assessment with four examinations:
Inspection. This involves looking at the patient, body type, posture, skin tone and lustre of hair. It may also include the traditional method of tongue diagnosis.
Listening. Information is obtained by listening to the patient's voice and breathing. Smelling is also included.
Feeling or Palpation. This uses abdominal palpation and meridian touch, and the traditional art of pulse diagnosis, in which the practitioner feels the patient's pulse and notes the rate, rhythm, quality, and shape.
Inquiry. Standard questions are used to assess body function, digestion, diet, sleep, pain, sensory function, elimination, sweating, menstruation, and medical history.
From the information gathered in the assessment, the practitioner can then understand the patient's condition. The view of anatomy and physiology used by an acupuncturist is different from western medicine, and is built on concepts such as the balance of Yin and Yang, Meridian theory, and patterns of disease. It is important that the practitioner takes a holistic perspective in considering all parts of the patient's signs and symptoms before treatment can begin.
Treatment with acupuncture can use needles, but that's just one of the tools and techniques used. Moxibustion, massage, polarity devices, blood moving approaches, and frequency approaches are also used by an acupuncturist. Within each of the techniques there are many different application methods. Massage, for example, can be used in traditional Chinese ways, or in the Japanese Shiatsu, which is meridian-based. Different devices are used to establish an electromagnetic gradient along meridians and acupuncture points to facilitate the flow of Qi along the meridian pathways.
The best-known technique used in acupuncture is, of course, the needles. These come in a range of thicknesses and lengths, and are often as thin as a shaft of hair. They are made of different materials, including stainless steel, gold or silver. Needle treatment involves placing needles at select points all over the body.
An acupuncturist will also often recommend exercise, dietary changes, and herbal supplements. The profession is evolving, and new techniques continue to be incorporated. Colorpuncture, for example, is a variant in which beams of color are used at acupuncture points.