If you’ve ever experienced the extreme histrionics of a child who knows they’re going to the doctor’s office for a vaccination then you’ll know that it’s pretty normal for people to be anxious about needles. It’s not only children, either – plenty of people have a fear of needles, and it’s a common reason why people might not want to try acupuncture. So it’s a question I hear a lot: Does acupuncture hurt?
Generally, acupuncture does not hurt. However there are some sensations that are frequently experienced by people receiving acupuncture, and some people won’t feel the needles at all. Most people who receive acupuncture enjoy the experience.
Hang on, back to the screaming children: the vaccination hurts, even if it’s only for a short while. What’s the difference?
Well, it’s a few things, but lets look at the needles. The vaccination (hypodermic) needle is thicker, for starters. The acupuncture needle could be as little as a quarter of the thickness of the hypodermic needle. Now look at the tip. The hypodermic needle has a wedged point, which is good, ’cause that’s a cutting edge, perfect for cutting through the skin and blood vessel wall. The acupuncture needle? A triangular point, good for passing between bits of tissue.
Now poke it on your finger!
Acupuncture: “Ha! Look at it getting all bendy! I am THE IMPERVIOUS CONQUEROR OF THE WORLD! NO NEEDLE SHALL PIERCE MY IRON SKIN! BOW DOWN BEFORE ME!”
Maybe that’s just me.
But you can see my point (get it!), the needles are different, so they feel different.
That’s not to say that you won’t feel the needles at all. There is usually a very slight sharp sensation as the needle passes through the superficial layers of the skin. Once the needle is in place many acupuncturists will manipulate the needle in certain ways to obtain what is traditionally known as de qi. This usually feels like a dull ache, warm or tingling sensation. Different styles of acupuncture place greater or lesser emphasis on de qi, and attempt to obtain stronger or weaker sensations accordingly. Also, many people feel tingling or similar sensations further along the channel pathways, for example feeling sensations down into the foot as a point on the leg is needled.
As a practitioner I find that some people find it unpleasant to be needled in certain points, or perhaps areas of the body. In this case I always avoid that point or area and use other points instead. An experienced acupuncturist should be able to use alternate points to still achieve the desired outcome.
So, if you would like to try acupuncture, don’t let fear of the needles stop you. The experience is not like getting vaccinations or similar hypodermic needles, and is usually quite pleasant.