Author: Dr. Maryam Mahanian, DTCM, RAc

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Are you terrified of needles and have never tried acupuncture?  Hope you will learn all about what acupuncture really feels like. 

I often meet people who say that they have avoided acupuncture at all costs because they are terrified of needles.

Or a question that I can get from my first-time patients is “Does acupuncture hurt”?

I love hearing these same people that were initially scared report that the treatments were surprisingly relaxing and not what they expected at all!!

Let me tell you a little bit about acupuncture needles:

Acupuncture needles are very thin – they can be as fine as hair and are 25 to 50 times thinner than hypodermic needles. The needles are different from hypodermic needles in the sense that they are not injecting anything into the body or taking any blood out. They are simply being penetrated comfortably into the skin in order to stimulate the acupuncture point. They are bendable so they do not break. They also slip into the skin easily for maximum comfort.

Patients may sometimes feel a slight prick sensation when the needle initially penetrates the skin but this is rare. They most often do not feel anything. When the needle penetrates slightly deeper, it is a most interesting (some may call it weird) sensation. This is called “de Qi” – it is basically when the acupuncturist reaches the Qi (energy) of the body. This is an essential part of the process. People that are quick to feel “de Qi” are generally more responsive to treatment meaning that they will get results quicker than those who have difficulty feeling anything at all. De Qi is the nervous stimulus passing from the acupuncture point to the brain.
Here are some descriptions of what acupuncture actually feels like:

  • numbness or tingling
  • dull ache in the muscle
  • pulling feeling
  • feeling of travelling warmth
  • feels like water trickling
  • comfortable pressure
  • feel sensation on the opposite side of the body

The above sensations are all expected and are desirable. What should not be felt is pain or a burning sensation. If that ever happens, the needle is removed right away as the pain will make the patient tense up and anxious throughout the treatment and that goes against the purpose of what acupuncture is intended to serve.

Believe it or not, acupuncture in my clinic is very relaxing! I provide a cozy, clean environment. The beds are heated and I will always have heat lamps keeping the patients warm. The lights are dim while relaxing music is being played in the background and patients just close their eyes and let the treatment do its magic. The more relaxed one feels throughout a treatment, the more effective the treatment will be! Patients can tend to even fall asleep for the duration of their treatment. It is (and it really should be) something that people look forward to and should not be nervous about at all!

If one is really terrified, they should let their acupuncturist know that they are nervous. The acupuncturist can use the thinnest needles and will customize the treatment. Perhaps they won’t do as many points or they will coach the patient with breathing exercises as they administer the needles. Acupressure massage is also an alternative.

I recommend you take the plunge and give at least one acupuncture treatment a try – you will be happy that you did!

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