What does acupuncture really feel like? For some, the idea of having 15 or so acupuncture needles inserted at various points around the body sounds like an absolute nightmare. This post shares what acupuncture feels like and how it can be beneficial.
Not all needles are the same
Oftentimes when we think about needles, we remember what it felt like to get a shot or vaccination. For these types of processes, doctors and nurses use what is called a hypodermic needle. This type of needle is naturally larger and hollow so that it is able to inject a substance into the patient. Because of the sheer size of hypodermic needles the likelihood of pain on insertion, bruising, and soreness afterward is much more likely.
In contrast, acupuncture needles are much thinner and are filiform, meaning that they do not allow fluids to pass through. In fact, you could fit around 20 or more acupuncture needles into the tip of an 18 gauge hypodermic needle.
What does acupuncture feel like?
The thinness of acupuncture needles makes it so that the insertion is hardly ever felt; if there is any sensation at all, it is often described as a mild pinch. The level of training and experience of a practitioner can also play a big role in how much a needle insertion is felt. Throughout graduate school, acupuncturists have entire classes that focus on techniques and strategies to make the insertion of needles quick and painless.
How acupuncture needles work
Once a needle is inserted, the next step is to provide some type of stimulation to the acupuncture point. This can be done with gentle lifting and rotation of the needle or even electro stimulation in some cases. After several seconds of needle manipulation , there is often the report of a “dull ache” or a brief muscle twitch by the patient. Once that sensation is achieved, the practitioner will then leave the needle to rest and any aching sensation will fade and disappear entirely. As for electro acupuncture, the stimulation is generally felt as a “light tap” and will often cause gentle, repetitive muscle contractions.
Acupuncture itself can benefit the patient in so many ways. The effect an acupuncture needle has can vary greatly depending on its location, depth, and the stimulation used. Overall, acupuncture needles do an excellent job of promoting circulation, reducing inflammation, mitigating pain, releasing trigger points, increasing proprioceptive awareness, “waking up” inhibited musculature, and calming the nervous system. No matter what you are trying to correct with acupuncture, you will very likely get a pleasant calming side effect.
If fear of needles is what is holding you back from trying acupuncture for the first time, we are equipped with several other non invasive techniques such as cupping, Gua sha, and massage. While these modalities may not have the same potency as acupuncture, they can be a good introduction to Chinese medicine and still have profound effects on your overall well-being.
Author Adam Gawlak is a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). His specialities include sports medicine acupuncture, motor point acupuncture, trigger point needling and traditional Chinese medicine, along with strength training, athletic performance, and corrective exercise.