Does acupuncture hurt?

Mark Schwartz
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
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.
Dr. Daniel Hsu, DAOM
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
There is little sensitivity to the insertion of acupuncture needles. One reason is that they are much finer than those used for injections and blood tests - 25 to 50 times thinner than hypodermic needles. Further, the actual insertion is done very quickly. While some feel nothing at all, others experience a brief moment of discomfort, sometimes followed by a mild sensation of cramping, tingling or numbness (desirable sensations known as "attaining qi"). The needles are left in place for 20 to 90 minutes. Most people find the experience relaxing, and many even fall asleep during sessions.

Most all standard acupuncture points are half a millimeter away from a nerve. If the practitioner has located the point correctly, then the most discomfort one would feel would be a slight prick upon insertion.
Dr. Robin Miller, MD
Internal Medicine
Everyone experiences acupuncture differently and so there may be no discomfort for you. Some people feel a very mild discomfort when the acupuncture needle pierces the skin. When the needle is tapped into the energy channel, some people may feel a minimal cramp-like sensation.  There are certain parts of the body that may be more sensitive. These include the fingers and toes, the scalp, and the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Rarely someone may experience a sharp pain, which may indicate that the acupuncturist hit a blood vessel or a nerve. Once the needle is removed, the pain goes away. I have had many acupuncture treatments and found that despite the fact that I hate needles, it doesn’t really hurt. 

Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine, hair-like needles into specific points on the body. People report different sensations from acupuncture. Sometimes the needles feel painless and other times you might feel a slight prick or a tingling/electric feeling. If you feel intense pain, tell your practitioner to remove the needle as it may have not been placed properly. Many people feel a sense of calm and relaxation from treatments.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.