The needles used in acupuncture are stainless steel filiform needles, they are solid and not hollow like the hypodermic needle your doctor uses. In fact, several needles can fit inside a hypodermic needle. Ok, so now you know the needles are thin, but do they hurt? Generally acupuncture is painless. Some patients describe an occasional pinching sensation that lasts for just a second when the needle is inserted. They describe it like a fast pinch. Most patients don’t even feel the needles when they are inserted.
So what do the needles feel like? Once the needles are inserted you will generally start to feel relaxed. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the purpose of the needles is to create a condition called “de qi”,in Chinese it means the arrival of “Qi” (Qi loosely translated means, the energy the permeates and animates everything). TCM theory says that if the qi flows freely, there is no pain. The needles an acupuncturist uses help the patient achieve a balanced flow of Qi therefore removing pain and restoring health. So having dispensed with some basic background we can return to the topic at hand. A number of other sensations can be felt throughout the body which I’ll try to describe.
- Itching around the needle – just like it sounds, some patients will feel strong itching sensations around certain needles. This is not painful and usually goes away a couple of minutes after the needle is inserted.
- Warmth around the needle – some patients report a pleasant warm feeling in the area of the needle. It sometimes feels like the warmth you feel when your skin is exposed to the sun.
- Shooting electricity – occasionally a patient may feel a shock run through the body. This “shock” sensation only last for milliseconds, as soon as you feel it it’s gone! These are usually considered strong Qi sensations that will typically run along the channel into which the needled is inserted. An example is that a needle is inserted on the outside of the leg just below the knee and the patient feels a jolt running down the leg to the toes. This sensation does not occur with the frequency of other sensations. Some patients have even reported relief and improvement of their health condition after feeling these jolts of energy.
- Distention – it feels like the area around the needle is swollen or with slight pressure. This sensation is a very typical during an acupuncture treatment. If you have ever received anesthesia at the dentists office you will know what distention feels like. Kind of how your mouth feels after the anesthesia and before the dentists drills. The main difference is that during acupuncture you do not lose feeling as you do with anesthesia. So if your face is needled (yes, there are many points on the face as well as the entire body) you won’t have to worry about drooling on your shirt.
- Coolness running through the body – some patients have reported feeling as if a fresh/cool wind was running through their body. Most patients mistakenly think the air conditioner has blow on them but then realize that the feeling was within their body. This sensation usually only lasts a couple of seconds.
- Tingling around the needle – Some patients will feel a tingling sensation around the needle. It is described like activity/increase energy around the point.
- Throbbing sensation – Some patients will feel the area around the needle throb slightly. They describe it kind of like a heart beat type pulsation. When these sensations occur they are usually not uncomfortable and will diminish as the treatment goes on.
So in summary, acupuncture is relatively painless and the benefits far outweigh any discomfort patients have. So what are the dangers if any? I tell my patients that there are some potential risks with acupuncture. Some patients may bleed a drop or two of blood out of certain points (especially if they are on blood thinning medication), small bruising may appear around the needle insertion site, and some patients may leave the clinic with the the needle sensation although all the needles have been removed (this goes away usually within the day).
So what are you waiting for? Book your appointment!