“Do the needles hurt?” is one of the most common questions first time patients ask me before an acupuncture treatment. My response is not a simple “yes” or “no”, but rather an explanation of the different sensations someone can experience during an acupuncture treatment.
I like to start by explaining the difference between acupuncture needles and the needles most people have experienced, those of a blood draw or IV. Blood draw needles are hollow, so they are meant to puncture a vein and remove fluid from your body. As a result, the diameter of the needle needs to be large enough to accomplish fluid removal quickly. Acupuncture needles are solid, meaning they are not designed to withdrawn anything. As a result, they are quite a bit more comfortable. Acupuncture needles are less than the width of one of your hairs: very tiny! Take a look at the comparison below, and you’ll see what I mean!
Any sensation felt with an acupuncture needle will be different than that with a blood draw needle, because they were designed for different purposes. The range of sensations felt with an acupuncture needle goes as follows: nothing (yes, nothing!), a light pin prick, or a heavy, dull, aching sensation around the point.
Most people don’t feel the majority of acupuncture needles as they are inserted. A pin prick sensation can be felt on the most sensitive points that day, but the feeling usually dissipates into nothing quickly or into a heavy, dull, aching sensation. Occasionally, the pin prick will feel a little sharper and remain a little longer, in which case I readjust the acupuncture needle for the comfort of the patient. Acupuncture is meant to calm the nervous system and relax the body; my personal acupuncture style includes decreasing distracting or intense sensations on points so it is possible to relax throughout the treatment.
The heavy, dull, aching sensation is a great response to acupuncture. It often feels like a sore muscle, and the sensation can migrate from point to point throughout the treatment. The heavy, dull, aching sensation is most often felt in cases where people are coming in for treatment of a painful area: hip, low back, knee, shoulder, neck, etc. In Chinese medicine, pain is caused by stagnation. The energy or life force of Chinese medicine is called qi (chi), and it circulates along highways, or meridians, upon which the points are located. If the heavy, dull, achy sensation is experienced at a certain point, it means qi was stagnant in that area or on that particular meridian. The acupuncture needles are stimulating the qi to circulate again, and circulation promotes healing.
It can take a full 48 hours for an acupuncture treatment to settle into the body; occasionally some of the sensations from the needles will linger after the treatment, and this is also a good sign. Acupuncture stimulates the body to heal, and sometimes the work is not complete during the treatment itself.
I’ve covered the sensations acupuncture needles create, and I hope I’ve left you feeling better about the possibility of receiving a treatment. Fully conveying what a treatment feels like is quite a challenge, as everyone has a different experience. With the needles working together harmoniously, oftentimes you feel relaxed in a way you haven’t experienced before. It leaves you feeling calm, collected, and ready to take on the challenges of your health and life. Acupuncture is a fantastic way to treat and prevent major health concerns, and to put you more in touch with your body.