Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Over the 12+ years of practicing, one of the top questions I get asked is, does acupuncture hurt. Growing up, mom would say, ” I would be rich if I had a penny every time you asked me that.” Well, I should be rich. It is a great question, especially if you are thinking about trying acupuncture for the first time. Therefore, I am happy to answer it.

Usually, I describe acupuncture as the insertion of fine needles into specific acupuncture points on the body to treat health conditions. Before I get any further, the question comes. “Does it hurt?!” When people hear the word needle, they quickly regress to a scary childhood memory of getting a shot or having blood drawn. I get it. As a kid, it hurts. I was terrified of needles. Unfortunately, we carry those experiences with us into our adult years.

Here is some perspective. As young ones, we don’t have any frame of reference for the needling experience. Everything dramatically hurts. Remember when you fell and skinned your knee? Mom or Dad would rush to comfort and let you know everything would be okay. How would you react if you fell and skinned your knee today? I guarantee your experience will be completely different than your earlier years. I bet the needling experience will be the same.

As adults, our only frame of reference for needles is the western hypodermic needle. Unlike hypodermic needles, acupuncture needles are fine and flexible needles the size of human hair. The most common size used is 36 gauge, plus or minus depending on the practitioner and treatment. I promise. Acupuncture needles have no resemblance to the needles used by your doctor. For comparison, the most popular size of a hypodermic needle for drawing blood or giving subcutaneous muscle injections is a 21 gauge. Those are the needles that scared you as a kid. They make acupuncture needles seem like a mosquito bite. You got this!

What will you feel? I’m happy to report most people don’t feel much at all. In most cases, a skilled practitioner inserts the needles with minimal discomfort. I have found most people are pleasantly surprised with the needling experience. However, there is a possibility you will feel pinching, tingling, numbness, soreness, heaviness, dullness, achy, and traveling sensations. Whether it is painful is entirely the individual’s subjective experience.

What are these sensations? The ones most people are curious about are the tingling and traveling. Believe it or not, the tingling and traveling are very significant. In Classical Chinese Medicine, practitioners rotate (stimulate) the needles to get these sensations. This phenomenon is called “The Arrival of Qi” or “De Qi.” The ancient text says the acupuncture treatment does not take effect until the arrival of qi. The tingling and traveling sensations mean the acupuncture point is activated and working.

If you are sensitive to needle sensations, I have good news for you. There are different needling styles of acupuncture. For example, the needling style I use is Japanese. However, my practice is rooted in the theories and philosophies of Classical Chinese medicine. The Japanese needling style is excellent because it is more gentle than the Chinese needling method, which focuses on getting the “arrival of qi” at the acupuncture points. Does it still work? Of course, it does. The Japanese found it just as effective without getting “De Qi.” Get ready for a comfortable and painless experience!

Sheri Davidson, licensed acupuncturist and integrative health coach, specializes in preventative medicine. She loves sharing her passion for wellness living and Eastern medicine through her blog, The Wellness Inspired Podcast, and practice, Element 5, Acupuncture + Wellness in Rice Village District of Houston, TX.

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Sheri Davidson
L.Ac. + Integrative Health and Wellness Coach