By far, the most common question I hear when chatting with people about Acupuncture is “Does Acupuncture hurt?” With, “what do the needles feel like?” as a close second. Not surprisingly, when most people think of needles, they think back to all of their experiences since childhood of vaccinations and having blood drawn. Yeah- those shots hurt! Rest assured, though, that Acupuncture needles, are nothing like hypodermic needles.
Acupuncture needles are designed for one purpose- comfort. Their unique shape allows them to glide very easily through tissue with little disruption and thus little to no ‘pointy needle sensation’. This is vastly different from the effect of hypodermic needles, which are primarily designed to be good fluid delivery systems and not necessarily to be comfortable.
The needles that Acupuncturists use these days are pre-packed, sterile, single-use, and disposable. They are extremely thin and smooth, and only slightly thicker than the width of a human eyelash. They are so thin, in fact, that they can literally be curled like a ribbon with just your fingertips- my personal favorite parlor trick to ease the minds of nervous new patients.
What does Acupuncture feel like?
During treatment, the Acupuncture needles will be placed at precise points on your body, limbs, scalp, ears or anywhere else appropriate to your condition being treated.
At the moment the needle is first “tapped” in, most people feel only a very slight pinch or nothing at all. An ant bite is much worse than an acupuncture needle insertion. If you do feel any sharpness, it typically only lasts fractions of a second. After that, most people feel nothing as the needle is being manipulated to the proper depth, at which point you might feel some additional sensations. These sensations could range between numbness, tingling, heat, pressure, a very mild, dull ache, and in some cases, an electrical sensation, affectionately referred to in my practice as “the ZING,” which sometimes travels to another part of your body.
Did’ja notice that “pain” is not on that list? All of the aforementioned sensations are generally very tolerable by even the most sensitive people and are considered totally normal and good signs, prognostically, that your body is responding well to the treatment.
Once the needles are all in place, they will be retained for a period of time- usually 25-35 minutes, in order for your body to fully integrate the treatment. During that time, you might feel mild, strange (but not painful) sensations at and around the needles as well as in parts of your body that do not have needles in them. Many people feel nothing at all. Note: this is not the appropriate time to work on your dance moves. As impressive as I’m sure they are, if you start moving around on the table, you might feel the needles. So just don’t move. Use the time to take a nice power-nap, do some meditation, or otherwise just relax and enjoy the good-quality you time.
On that note, I’d like to reiterate something that I emphasize with my own patients. While the needles are being retained, it’s a good time for you to take a moment from your busy life to actually allow yourself relax! Seriously, take a nap! Most of us are so far removed from what it’s like to actually be 100% mentally and physically relaxed that we don’t even recognize it anymore. I’ve had patients tell me after their treatment that they feel, “so tired…” When I ask them, “Really? Are you tired or are you relaxed?” They inevitably realize that they’re actually totally relaxed for the first time in a long time!
Most patients report that acupuncture treatments are not only relatively painless, but also extremely relaxing and it is very common for even the high-anxiety patients to fall asleep during treatments. This is because Acupuncture treatments have a dramatic affect on regulating your nervous system. By stimulating your brain to release massive amounts of endorphins, your body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals, Acupuncture helps to calm your overactive Sympathetic Nervous System- that insidious, high-stress “fight-or-flight” mode- and returns you to a nice, peaceful, Parasympathetic Nervous System- that mysterious and otherwise hard to achieve “rest-and-heal” mode. This often occurs within minutes of starting the acupuncture treatment.
Feel free to check out my recent article What To Expect At Your First Acupuncture Treatment for a full run-down of what will happen from the moment you walk in the door.
This information brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Austin Acupuncturist, Melanie Irvine, L.Ac., MAOM, owner Turning Point Wellness. For more info about how Acupuncture, Oriental Medicine, and natural nutrition can help you achieve vibrant health and well-being. Feel free to visit my website, www.TurningPointAcupuncture.net for more details and direct contact information.