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Is Acupuncture Really Painful? 7 Myths Demystified

October 30, 2023

Acupuncture Q & A

What Is Acupuncture Treatment?

Acupuncture is a type of treatment that originated in China more than 3,000 years ago. Acupuncturists use extremely slim needles, placing them in key areas on the body to alleviate pain in a natural way. The needles create a balance in the body’s energy, which allows the body to return to its optimal pain-free state.

There are several types of acupuncture. In moxibustion, moxa taken from dried mugwort warms key areas and helps with smooth qi energy flow. In auricular acupuncture, points on the outer ear are stimulated for healing. In cupping therapy, suction is used to help stimulate blood flow and promote healing.

If you flinch at the idea of needles penetrating your skin, you aren’t the only one who feels that way.

Many people who undergo acupuncture treatment for the first time share the common misconception that it involves excruciating pain from a porcupine’s worth of needles poking every inch of your body.

But nothing could be further from the truth. 

Acupuncture, at most, causes  mild discomfort. Any momentary sting barely registers above a minor pinprick.

In this guide, we talk about the pain levels of acupuncture by explaining the subtle needling sensations you can expect, signs it’s working its magic, and some facts that debunk the common myths.

What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?

Acupuncture produces subtle, non-painful sensations. As each slender stainless steel needle penetrates the skin, you may feel a faint prick, sometimes a dull ache around the point.

Any minor discomfort dissipates within seconds, replaced by soothing heaviness and warmth. Your body responds by releasing endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, and other feel-good chemicals, invoking an overall sense of calm and relaxation. 

If you experience pronounced pain during needling, immediately inform your acupuncturist to adjust or remove the bothersome needle. While the initial poke may briefly feel unusual, the after-effects are resoundingly therapeutic for your body and mind.

In fact, many patients become so blissfully relaxed during treatment they can’t resist a restorative nap! 

7 Common Myths About Acupuncture Discomfort

Many myths propagate inaccurate ideas that acupuncture must be agonizingly painful. However, these common misconceptions fail to reflect the reality that skilled acupuncturists perform the treatment comfortably. 

Let's debunk fiction with facts revealing acupuncture's gentle nature:

Myth #1: Treatment is agonizingly painful the entire time.

While you may have brief, mild discomfort when the needle goes in, pronounced pain persisting throughout treatment is not normal or expected. This signals improper technique such as improper depth or angle. 

A skilled, experienced acupuncturist will ensure any minor sensations subside quickly and you feel comfortable.

Myth #2: Lack of sensation means it’s ineffective.

Needling sensations can manifest differently for each individual based on factors like nerve sensitivity and health conditions. Lack of strong sensations does not mean poor technique or results. 

Feeling deeply relaxed demonstrates the treatment is effectively stimulating a positive impact at an energetic level. You may experience subtle benefits without noticeable needling feelings.

Myth #3: Post-treatment soreness equals injury.

Experiencing some mild muscle soreness or light bruising for 1-2 days after acupuncture is common and simply indicates continued circulation and healing, not damage. 

Light post-needling soreness shows your body is still actively responding to the treatment. Staying hydrated helps clear this normal byproduct of healing.

Myth #4: Acupuncture needles are as thick as syringes.

Acupuncture needles are extremely thin, about the width of a human hair. This allows them to slide into your skin tissue with little to no pain. 

Their tiny diameter is nothing like the larger, hollow needles used for injections or blood draws that can cause discomfort. Their fineness allows virtually pain-free insertion when skillfully placed.

Myth #5: Needles penetrate as deep as injections.

Unlike injections that deposit into deep tissues and muscles, acupuncture needles are only inserted superficially, just below the skin's surface. 

Shallow penetration with needles entering 1-3mm is sufficient to stimulate your acupoints without causing deep discomfort. Rest assured, experienced acupuncturists have extensive training in proper needling depth.

Myth #6: Needles are reused between patients.

Acupuncturists only use pre-sterilized, disposable needles unwrapped before your eyes for each treatment. This eliminates any risk of transmitting infections between patients. 

Proper acupuncture protocol includes using a new needle set per patient and immediately disposing it after use.

Myth #7: Acupuncture is only helpful for pain relief.

While excellent for alleviating pain, accumulating research shows acupuncture also improves anxiety, depression, sleep quality, nausea, headaches, women's health issues, respiratory conditions, and more. 

Clinical success with numerous disorders beyond pain management supports acupuncture as an effective therapy for whole-body wellness.

11 Signs Acupuncture is Working Its Magic

Does acupuncture hurt

How can you tell if acupuncture is effectively stimulating healing responses in your body? While each person's experience varies, there are some common indicators the treatment is activating its intended benefits.

As your practitioner skillfully inserts ultra-thin needles into strategic points along meridian channels (a system of acupuncture points in the body through which the qi energy flows), you may notice the following subtle but significant signs the therapy is working its magic:

1. Needling Release: You may feel a release of muscular tension, joint pain, or positional discomfort around needle sites as contracted tissues gently unlock. This demonstrates localized therapeutic benefits.

2. Radiating Sensations: Mild soreness, achiness, tingling, or warmth spreading outward from points following meridian energy channels, aligning with traditional Chinese medicine theory.

3. Calm Euphoria: As your parasympathetic nervous system activates, feelings of peaceful euphoria and mental clarity indicate reduced stress and anxiety. 

4. Restored Flexibility: You may regain range of motion in frozen joints as inflammation subsides and movement frees up. 

5. Delayed Soreness: Light post-treatment muscle soreness stems from continued circulation and healing responses, not harm. 

6. Regulated Sleep: If you’ve been struggling with insomnia, sleep often comes easier as melatonin levels normalize and you wake up refreshed.

7. Balanced Energy: Patients with chronic fatigue report improved stamina and spark as optimal “qi” flow revitalizes the body.

8. Improved Immunity: Acupuncture boosts immune cell activity to help fight infections.

9. Reduced Headaches: Headache and migraine sufferers often report fewer and less painful headaches after regular acupuncture treatments.

10. Healthy Digestion: Acupuncture helps resolve IBS, nausea, and other GI issues by harmonizing intestinal and stomach functions.  

11. Improved Mental Health: It modulates key neurotransmitters to alleviate anxiety, depression, addiction, and trauma-based disorders.

What To Expect During Your First Acupuncture Session? 

what to expect with acupuncture, what does acupuncture feel like

Prepare yourself for a healing experience marked by comfort, not pain. Here’s a walkthrough of a typical session:

  • Holistic Health Intake: Discuss your medical history, pain points, lifestyle factors, and wellness goals to guide customized treatment.
  • Area Assessment: Your practitioner will gently inspect and examine the regions related to your concerns, like massaging shoulders for headache relief. 
  • Process Education: They’ll explain how acupuncture activates natural healing responses so you know what to expect. 
  • Point Selection: Based on your diagnosis, they’ll select optimal acupuncture points to target for therapeutic effects.
  • Careful Needle Insertion: Using sterile single-use needles, they’ll methodically and gently place the ultra-thin needles in points.
  • Relaxing Rest Period: You'll recline comfortably for 15-30 minutes with needles inserted to allow full treatment effects to develop.
  • Soothing Heat Therapy: Your acupuncturist may burn aromatic herbs like mugwort or moxa near points to amplify effects.
  • Gentle Needle Removal: Needles are extracted with care at the end of the session. 
  • Session Review: Discuss your experience, sensations, and recommended treatment plan moving forward.

Find Your Inner Balance with Complete Wellness

Now that the myths about acupuncture pain have been debunked, it's time to try this ancient art and experience its incredible healing abilities yourself.

Complete Wellness provides a welcoming oasis to your acupuncture journey under the guidance of licensed experts.

Our integrative approach leverages acupuncture alongside complementary therapies like massage, spinal alignment, herbal remedies, and lifestyle counselling. This whole-person care identifies and addresses the roots of your health concerns, not just symptoms.

Contact Complete Wellness today to schedule an appointment. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How many needles are inserted during acupuncture?

Typically 6-12 needles are inserted during a treatment. The number used depends on the individual's health needs.

What not to do before acupuncture?

Avoid alcohol, stimulants, heavy meals, and strenuous exercise before acupuncture. Come relaxed and well-hydrated.

Can you drive after acupuncture?

It's best not to drive immediately after acupuncture if you feel very relaxed or drowsy. Give yourself time to wake up and recover cognitively.

Why can’t you shower after acupuncture?

Showering soon after removal can irritate the needle sites. It's ideal to wait 6-12 hours before bathing to allow the skin to fully settle.

How do acupuncturists know where to put needles?

Acupuncturists have extensive training on meridian point locations and combine them for customized treatment based on a patient's health condition and goals.

Complete wellness

Medically reviewed by Complete Wellness on Feb 16, 2024

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