Most of the main acupuncture points are found on the twelve main meridians and two of the eight extra meridians (Du Mai and Ren Mai) a total of fourteen channels, which are described in classical and traditional Chinese medical texts, as pathways through which Qi and Blood flow. There also exist extra points not belonging to any channel. Other tender points (known as ashi points) may also be needled as they are believed to be where stagnation has gathered.

Treatment of acupuncture points may be performed along several layers of pathways, most commonly the twelve primary channels, or mai, located throughout the body. The first twelve channels correspond to systems of function: Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestine, Bladder, Kidney, Pericardium, San Jiao (an intangible, also known as Triple Burner), Gall Bladder, and Liver. Other pathways include the Eight Extraordinary Pathways (Qi Jing Ba Mai), the Luo Vessels, the Divergents and the Sinew Channels. Ashi (tender) points are generally used for treatment of local pain.

The twelve primary pathways run vertically, bilaterally, and symmetrically and every channel corresponds to and connects internally with one of the twelve Zang Fu (organs). This means that there are six yin and six yang channels. There are three yin and three yang channels on each arm, and three yin and three yang on each leg.