Acupuncture generally uses needles which are between 32 - 36 gauge, which are considerably thinner than the needles you will have had injections or blood draws with at your doctors office (thinner acupuncture needles exist for patients who are more needle sensitive). When performed by a skilled acupuncturist, acupuncture can be recieved by nearly everybody even those who suffer from needle phobias. The experience is usually quite relaxing and some even fall asleep during their treatment.
There are many styles of acupuncture and each acupuncturist has their own unique way of practicing. Some points you may not even feel the needle insertion. For many acupuncturists it is desirable for the patient to feel the "arrival of Qi" or "Qi sensation". Manipulation of the needle is designed to call the acupuncture point to action. Qi sensation is described in countless ways, but is most often experienced as a dull ache, distension, tingling or pressure. Some points may have a stronger feelinng which travels from one location to another, like an electric sensation. Though this sensation may be unpleasant, it will typically dissipate in a second or two. If the discomfort does not resolve quickly, your acupuncturist may adjust or remove the needle. A stronger Qi sensation is not a mistake. Certain points may be more reactive or sensitive depending on their location or the condition which you are being treated. Other acupuncture styles do not stimulate the needles upon insertion and believe that it not necessary to get a Qi sensation. Put the needle and your body knows what to do with it.
The condition you are being treated for sometimes may dictate what type of acupuncture is used. For example in our practice when using a particular distal point (acupuncture points are selected far away from the affected area) treatment system to treat pain, we may select a slightly thicker needle and elect to use a stronger manipulation style. The patient may experience stronger Qi sensation which may be uncomfortable briefly but is often rewarded by a great reduction in their pain. For conditions such as infertility, anxiety, or depression we will often select thinner needles and move the needles more gently.
Most people really can receive acupuncture with minimal or no discomfort.
If you are concerned about pain, I suggest you discuss this with your acupuncturist before your first appointment and this way the treatment can be modified to meet your needs and concerns. M.S.
More Answers from Mark Schwartz