Acupuncture: A solution for issues ranging from depression to chronic pain to cigarette smoking and more. But if you’ve never experienced acupuncture before, the thought of it might seem scary. You may have looming questions running through your head: Does acupuncture hurt? What does it feel like? What are the needles like? Will it be like getting a vaccination? These are reasonable questions to ask yourself — and, more importantly, an acupuncturist — if you’ve never experienced an acupuncture treatment. Fortunately, these questions are also easily answered. We’ll address the fundamentals of what acupuncture feels like below.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
The big question: Does acupuncture hurt?
The answer: No. Acupuncture shouldn’t hurt. You will likely feel something (and we’ll get into that later), but you shouldn’t feel pain.
It’s understandable that people wonder about pain when they think of acupuncture. After all, most experiences tied to needles — vaccinations, tattoos — are somewhat painful. At first, using an instrument generally associated with pain might seem counterintuitive to healing. But you’ll find that what you feel from acupuncture’s needles don’t match what you feel from a visit to your physician or to the tattoo parlor.
This is because acupuncture needles are different from the needles you’re used to seeing. Needles used in acupuncture are much thinner than needles used for other procedures. How wide a particular acupuncture needle is depends on the patient and what they’re being treated for, but on average, you could fit several acupuncture needles inside a regular medical needle. Also, acupuncture needles are solid, whereas other medical needles are hollow. Because of these factors, you shouldn’t feel the needle itself any more than the slight pressure of it on your skin.
If you do feel a sharp pain, it’s important to tell your acupuncturist. Communicating that feeling will help your acupuncturist find out why the procedure is hurting and how to stop the pain.
So What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?
Again, acupuncture shouldn’t be painful. However, that doesn’t mean the treatment won’t cause any feeling. Some patients report feeling nothing, but many patients feel . . . something. A good word to describe the feeling from acupuncture is “sensation.” Patients may feel a sensation during the treatment because, with each needle, the body releases endorphins throughout the spinal cord, brain, and muscles. This should be a relaxing feeling overall.
Different patients experience the sensation of acupuncture in different ways, and it often varies based on your health condition and your body’s unique reaction. Some of the most common sensations reported include the following:
- Tingling: With your body’s nerves activating in ways they normally don’t, you might feel a tingling sensation. Many patients describe a tingly “traveling” feeling, like little sparks moving through their body.
- Weight: During a treatment, some patients will report having a heavy feeling around certain points. But this should be a relaxing weight, like being draped under a thick, heavy blanket.
- Warmth: As the treatment affects your circulation, your blood flow could create feelings of warmth in the part of your body undergoing treatment. Like the feeling of weight, this warmth should be calming, not oppressive.
These are all good sensations to experience, as it means the acupuncture is activating your body’s nerves and tissue. However, if any of these feelings becomes overwhelming or uncomfortable, simply let your acupuncturist know. He or she will be able to readjust the treatment to relieve the discomfort. This should be a relaxing experience, not a stressful one.
Maximizing Your Comfort During Acupuncture
Your comfort is key during acupuncture. You are, of course, trying to heal in some way or another.
If you’re nervous about pain, acupuncturists have a number of ways to help you relax. Some patients like to listen to music during a treatment, as it distracts or soothes them when they’re feeling anxious. For others, having a blanket to relax under can put them at ease. Finally, some people wish to have multiple consultations before deciding to schedule a treatment, so that they can ask questions and learn more about the procedure. Acupuncturists are typically more than happy to accommodate these kinds of requests.
What can’t be emphasized enough is that communication is, above all, the most important factor before, during, and after your acupuncture treatment. And that goes for acupuncture rookies and veterans alike. If you’re feeling anything painful or something you believe isn’t normal, simply tell your acupuncturist.
So why not try acupuncture for yourself? You don’t have anything to lose. Plus, the next time you hear someone ask, “Does acupuncture hurt?”, you’ll be able to tell them about your own experience.