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Does Acupuncture Hurt?

A question I’m getting a lot these days is: “Well, it sounds great – but does acupuncture hurt?”

I don’t like to lie to people. As acupuncturists, we stick surgical steel into people’s bodies. Acupuncture is actually considered to be a surgical procedure. And yes, sometimes that does hurt.

But most people I’ve seen don’t even flinch when I sink the needle into their skin. When they do flinch, it’s usually because the spot on their body was tender to begin with, like in the case of a muscle knot. Other times, needle insertion causes them to feel a quick tingle, a very brief “shock” of sensation through their limb, or a pinch. I always ask after insertion, “How does the needle feel now?” 99% of the time, that uncomfortable sensation dissipates within less than ten seconds.

Once the needles are in, you may feel a heaviness in your body or limbs, a gentle vibration or tingle, or a sense of energy moving up and down your arms and legs. You may even see the needles rotating or moving on their own! This is what we call “De Qi” in Traditional Chinese Medicine. De Qi means “the arrival of vital energy.” The sensations you feel mean the treatment is working, and the body is working hard to heal and repair itself. All the needles do is awaken that healing energy.

Most people, though, fall dead asleep on the table within five or ten minutes. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tapped quietly on the clinic door to check in on a patient, and when I poke my head in they are snoozing away. Why is this? Well, the body heals fastest when you fall asleep. This is why when you’re sick, you feel so fatigued, and you’re liable to nap all day. That’s your body telling you: “Let’s rest now. I need to heal.”

So, in sum: yes, acupuncture can hurt. But rest assured, the pain is a quick pinch and very brief, if it even does hurt at all. And as a patient for many years before becoming a practitioner of acupuncture, I can tell you: any discomfort is worth how much better you feel after treatments.

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