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Does Acupuncture Hurt? Everything You Need to Know

WTHN Team/11.07.22


If you’re considering acupuncture for the first time or if you’re preparing for your first treatment, then we’re guessing that you probably have a bunch of questions. For starters: You’re going to stick a needle in me?! (Yes, but it’s so thin you’ll barely feel a thing.)


The good news is that feeling a little uncertain about the acupuncture process is completely normal! Therefore, we’ve compiled all of the necessary information you’ll need to put your mind at ease and come fully prepared for your first (or next!) session. 


Below, we answer all of your acu-related inquiries, such as “Does acupuncture hurt?” (hint, hint: no!) and “What does acupuncture feel like?” Get answers to these burning questions and more from experts at WTHN.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?


Among the biggest apprehensions that first-time patients have when it comes to acupuncture: Does it hurt?!? The short answer: Nope! (You can let out that sigh of relief now.)


The long answer: Much like with cupping therapy or acupressure mats, you don’t have to fret about any pain or injury as a result of your acu treatment. Commonly used to alleviate daily aches and injuries – such as lower back issues, muscle stiffness, tension headaches, and more – acupuncture is intended to treat pain, not cause it. 


Not only that, but acu is scientifically proven to provide relief that goes beyond just your physical health. For example, if you suffer from depression and anxiety, you can look to acupuncture to balance your hormones and boost your overall mood. Or if you have trouble falling or staying asleep, studies show that acu can improve your sleep cycle and promote relaxation.


Most patients report experiencing little to no pain after their treatment – so you really have nothing to worry about. After all, this holistic method of healing and energy promotion has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). So, clearly, it must not be that scary. If anything, first-time patients find that their concerns over treatment melt away just as quickly as their stress and pain does.


Does Acupuncture Feel Good?


It sure does! Not only are the benefits of acupuncture totally worth it, the process of actually getting it done can also be pretty enjoyable – if we do say so ourselves. 


Acupuncture works by stimulating acu-points (specific points on the body that are the meeting place of blood, nerves, lymph and connective tissue). Doing so sends messages to your brain to alter brain chemistry in a variety of ways depending on what your body needs. 


During treatment, many patients report a warming or tingling sensation that provides a general feeling of peace, comfort, and happiness. If you’re seeking relief from tightness or heaviness in your neck, shoulders, back or muscles, the release of this tension alone can result in tangible relief. After each acupuncture session, you can expect to feel lighter, calmer, and more connected with your body.


What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?


A lot of people might feel queasy at the thought or sight of needles. But it’s important to understand that acupuncture needles are much different from traditional medical needles. For instance, acupuncture needles are much thinner, in fact, you can fit 40 acupuncture needles into one hypodermic needle. Acupuncture needles are hair-thin, disposable and stainless steel, you may notice some sensation when they are being inserted but the sensation is not a painful one.


How does acupuncture work exactly? We’ll tell you! At the start of your treatment, a licensed acupuncture practitioner will evaluate your health and discuss any specific injuries or ailments you’re looking to treat. Next, your acupuncturist will insert around 15-30 acupuncture needles into acupuncture points located on the legs, arms, torso and/or head, and leave them in for about 30 minutes. 


Upon inserting a needle you may feel a dull ache. Occasionally you may feel a pinch, prick, or sting that only lasts a few seconds. Or you might feel nothing at all, which is also very common. (The same goes for needle removal, as well!)


Other commonly reported yet mild sensations include:

  • Heaviness
  • Itchiness
  • Tightening or twitching
  • Throbbing or a dull ache
  • Burning
  • Heat or warmth


Do Some Acupuncture Points Hurt More Than Others?


Since there are over 2,000 possible strategic acupuncture points on your body, some of these areas are bound to be more sensitive than others. Acu points along your extremities or where there is less skin, for example, may result in sharper sensations.


In general, keep in mind that the experience itself will be different for each and every individual – acupuncture is not one size fits all. Another thing worth noting: Your first acupuncture treatment may feel more intense than your follow-up appointments because these points are being “woken up” for the first time and because you may be nervous.


Will I Be Sore After an Acupuncture Treatment?


As with any therapeutic treatment, acupuncture does come with a few risks and side effects. Those who have a bleeding disorder, are taking blood thinners, are pregnant, or use a pacemaker have an increased risk of complications during treatment. The use of non-sterile needles can also lead to infection or disease, but working with licensed acupuncturists (such as WTHN healers) significantly reduces this risk.


Other side effects may include:

  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Mild discomfort or aching sensation at the acupuncture point
  • Fatigue
  • Soreness
  • Lightheadedness


What Does It Mean When Acupuncture Hurts?


Acupuncture points closer to the extremities (think hands + feet) have more nerve endings and can be more sensitive. Also if your muscles are very tight where a needle is being inserted it can also feel more sensitive. Ultimately if a needle does hurt let your acupuncturist know so they can adjust the needle accordingly. 


Many people avoid acupuncture because they’re concerned about the pain level and needles themselves, but this is a common misconception. When performed by an experienced professional, acupuncture shouldn’t hurt at all. In fact, acupuncture is so relaxing that people often fall asleep during the treatment. 


In Conclusion


Acupuncture is a scientifically proven way to help your body detox, relax, and heal. The process isn’t painful, but you might experience a few sensations before and after treatment, which in general should be viewed as positive reinforcements.


Still think acupuncture might not be for you? We get it! For those who are needle-averse, we recommend the acu-mat, cupping therapy or ear seeds as great alternatives that offer a multitude of similar results. Explore personalized acupuncture and cupping therapy memberships at WTHN.

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