Does Acupuncture Hurt?

By Katie Schalberg, M.S., L.Ac.

     When people find out that I'm an acupuncturist, I am immediately bombarded with many questions. "Does it work?", "Will it help with.?", "Isn't that just voodoo?". But after 10 years being part of this medical field, the #1 question that is asked of me, "Does it hurt?".  Even after explaining that acupuncture needles, unlike hypodermic needles, are solid and hair thin, it seems most people can't get over the fact that I'm putting sharp objects into their body. 

     So, does acupuncture hurt? No, it doesn't hurt. However, you should feel it! As I explain to all my patients, I first tap the needle in, gently breaking through the skin. Most will say that all they feel at this point is either the tapping or a little pinch, like a mosquito bite. I then insert the needle a bit deeper. The patient at this point can expect certain sensations.

  • Dull achy sensation: This is what the Chinese call "Da Qi" sensation which indicates a rush of blood flow into the area.          
  • Tingling sensation or the patient may feel the nerve activate down the leg or arm.         
  • Heat or itchiness: This sensation is a histamine response.        
  • Muscle contraction: Some acupuncture points are actual motor points of the muscle. When this motor point is activated, the muscle can contract on its own.         
  • Referred sensation: A needle is inserted into an area of the body, however the patient will feel the sensation somewhere else.  

     These sensations tell me, as the practitioner, that the body is responding to the acupuncture. However, every needle inserted does not elicit a response. With 10 needles inserted, most patients report sensation from maybe 3 or 4 of them. I also ask my patients to let me know if any of these sensations become overwhelming. In this case I will back the needle off or take it out completely. In my experience, if the patient is in any discomfort they become stressed and the treatment becomes ineffective.

     Finally, as in any relationship, communication is key. It is the same with the relationship between you and your acupuncturist. Therefore, let the practitioner know of your concerns. Let them know of your expectations. Finally, let them know if anything is bothering you during treatment. With this communication trust is built and ultimately your experience will be positive. You will even find yourself telling everyone how wonderful acupuncture is and how much it didn't hurt!