I am frequently asked the question “Is it going to hurt?” when people come for
their first acupuncture treatment. Many patients are concerned as to the pain level felt with
needling acupuncture points. The most common reaction and feedback I get is that the patient
did not feel a thing! In fact, many people enjoy acupuncture and find it very relaxing. I have
been told that people have felt the most relaxed that they have ever felt in months and
months. Here are some of the reasons why acupuncture is not as painful as you might expect.
Acupuncture needles are very thin
Unlike hypodermic needles that you encounter in a hospital or urgent care clinic, acupuncture
needles are not hollow and are quite thin. The thickness ranges from 0.12 mm to 0.30 mm in
diameter. This is about 2-4 times the diameter of a human hair. In general, we use the thicker
needles (0.30 mm) for the more muscular parts of the body and the thinner needles (0.12 mm)
for the parts of the body with less underlying tissue such as the hands, feet and face. Your
acupuncturist can opt for thinner needles if you have a hesitancy or phobia towards needles.
Gentle practitioner approach & consistent communication
Different practitioners have different styles. Some can be more aggressive and others gentler.
Choose a practitioner that is right for you. My style is gentle with little or no pain sensation
upon needle insertion. I often receive comments that the patient did not feel anything when
the first needle is inserted.
Openly communicate with your practitioner. Sometimes you may feel a pinch when the needle
enters however if a sharp pain persists let your practitioner know so that he/she can remove
the needle. Simply re-inserting a new needle at a different angle can often alleviate the pain.
Alternatively, your practitioner may choose adjunct techniques such as cupping or gua sha
(scraping) to relieve the tension in this area of the body rather than using needles.
If you feel a dull ache, heat sensation or cold sensation at the needle site this is a positive sign.
It means the qi has been activated. Patients may even feel a sensation further along the
channel being needled as the qi starts to flow.
Acupressure as an alternative
If you are feeling wary of receiving acupuncture, ask your provider if he/she does acupressure.
Acupressure involves gently massaging acupuncture points to stimulate and activate the qi.
Acupressure is as effective as acupuncture for several patients. It is also very calming and
grounding. To bill your health insurance, needles need to be inserted, so your acupuncturist can
insert 3-4 needles and do acupressure on the remaining points. Acupressure is painless and
effective and a great alternative for kids.
Acupuncture needles are very thin, about 2-4 times the diameter of a human hair. Most people
barely feel the needles as they go in. If you do feel pain, communicate with your practitioner
and make sure they respond to your requests. Find a practitioner with a gentle style and let
them know how you feel at the beginning of the session. Try acupressure as an alternative. It
can be relaxing, effective and rewarding.