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What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?

By Sara Calabro

A common assumption about acupuncture is that it hurts. You are, after all, getting stuck with needles. Fear of pain from acupuncture needles is one of the most common reasons people forgo acupuncture.

Often to the astonishment of those who take the plunge, acupuncture usually does not hurt. No pain, though, does not mean no sensation.

There are instances where acupuncture needles are inserted without the recipient feeling a thing—this is especially common with styles of acupuncture that utilize extra thin needles, such as Japanese acupuncture.

However, most of the time acupuncture produces some kind of sensation at the site of needling. This moment, when a person literally feels an acupuncture point working, is known in acupuncture lingo as de qi. It is a good thing.

Another way of thinking about de qi is that the acupuncture needle has accessed the energetic material that it needs to produce movement throughout the body. When the point is activated, change is initiated.

Acupuncture Can But Should Not Feel Sharp

Everyone experiences de qi differently, but de qi is never sharp.

When an acupuncture needle gets inserted, if you feel sharpness beyond the level of a mild mosquito bite, tell your acupuncturist. He or she may try needling the point again, or may simply remove the needle if the area has become sensitive.

A feeling of sharpness from an acupuncture needle occasionally happens; it’s nothing to worry about. However, acupuncture should be a comfortable experience. Most acupuncturists want their patients to speak up about any discomfort during the treatment. If yours doesn’t, find a new acupuncturist.

5 Common Acupuncture Sensations

Okay, so acupuncture feels like something and that something isn’t sharp. Then what does it feel like? Here are the five most common descriptions of how acupuncture feels:


Having an acupuncture point needled can feel like a weight is being placed on the area. Sometimes this feeling of heaviness expands, spreading throughout the body part where the needle was placed. This heaviness is calming rather than oppressive.


Along with heaviness, an achy sensation can occur at the needling site. It usually dissipates after a few seconds, but occasionally a point will ache or even throb slightly throughout the treatment. This is normal but it can be intense, especially on points that are located on the hands and feet. If it feels too strong, tell your acupuncturist so that he or she can adjust the stimulation.


The needling of certain acupuncture points can feel almost like you’re being shocked or zapped. It’s usually a surprising, traveling jolt that quickly disappears. One of the most common acupuncture points for causing this sensation is Pericardium 6, since the median nerve runs directly beneath it.


A patient once told me that she feels like a Christmas tree when she gets acupuncture. Acupuncture points can cause tingling at the needling site as well as throughout the body. Sometimes this happens immediately upon needle insertion and other times, which is where the Christmas-tree analogy comes from, it happens while you’re resting with needles. Points intermittently tingle like twinkling lights.


A spreading sensation of warmth sometimes engulfs the area around an acupuncture point. This typically occurs a minute or two after the needle is inserted. It is a pleasant feeling, like internal heating pads are being applied to various body parts.

If acupuncture causes you to feel something other than these five sensations—or nothing at all—that’s okay, too. These are just the sensations that occur most often.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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Kalyana Wolf

That’s what I thought but the last few sessions hurt – alot, despite telling the acupuncturist that I had been experiencing cold and anxiety these weren’t addressed and the treatment was most uncomfortable so I am not going back. I have been giving thought to how to reduce consumer discomfort in my practice, (I am a new student) and I’d like to hear about methods others use.

Joy Healey

I have never tried acupuncture myself, but my Mum had it for her legs and she confirmed that it had been helpful and wasn’t painful.


Sharon Wilhelm

I have been going to get Acupunture for over 3 years for back and leg pain and i have enjoyed going, and it has helped me alot and was not painful. I would recomend it to whoever has any pain! it is very relaxing!,




How do people with needle phobias go with acupunture. Be funny if there was an acupunture treatment for such people! Been considering giving acupuncture a go. Your article has given me some interesting points to reflect on. Thanks!


I have a moderately severe fear of needles, etc. In fact, my first acupuncture appointment was for pre-operative anxiety that I was dealing with. That was over 3 years ago, I absolutely LOVE going to my acupuncturist! At most, needles can me mildly uncomfortable in some areas, but the procedure leaves you feeling great! I wish acupuncture was accepted/covered through medical insurance, I would go more frequently than I am able to afford at this time.


I have to report that it is true that acupuncture does not hurt… until they hit a very sensitive area of your body or run electricity through it. I went through a great session until they hit the back of my right knee, that was probably the worst pain that I have ever experienced. I explicitly asked the shifu not to do that but he thought it would be good to try. If you are a runner, I would recommend to avoid the legs as much as possible or work really slowly into that. What do you think?

Top 3 Surprises About Acupuncture | AcuTake

[…] up close here.) In most cases, the insertion of acupuncture needles does not hurt. It can produce a variety of sensations but most frequent acupuncture goers will tell you it doesn’t […]


Acupuncture CAN hurt. When you have a buildup of energy in a acupuncture point, the needle begins releasing that energy. You feel legitimate pain while that energy releases. It usually only lasts a few minutes until the energy bleeds off. If you’ve had a tattoo, it is a completely different feeling. It is more like having the steroid injections done without any form of anesthesia, but it only lasts a moment. It is a means to an end. You will probably bruise in that spot as well. You might even have a slight amount of residual “flareup” in that spot in between treatments. This is normal and is the direct result of the energy in your body being blocked in areas and not able to flow properly. I always know that when I feel pain with a needle that I REALLY needed that needle to be put there. I suffered 20 years with horrifying pain. Been to every doctor, had every test, every pain med (even morphine), had multiple surgeries… 12 settings with my Acupuncturist had me feeling like a teenager again. If it hurts – go back because you really need to be there.



You know you have a good acupuncturist when they feel like energy releasing. It can be cold, hot, painful and sharp. I’ve literally burst out in tears with some of them. The feeling you get after treatment is so worth the few moments of pain that comes with a good acupuncture treatment.

I have tried 3 different acupuncturists and only one actually releases energy blocks. She is magnificent at what she does.


I used to have acupuncture regularly, but stopped because I felt each and every needle in my feet and several in my hands/wrist. It was more than uncomfortable (felt like I was getting a traditional shot or injection) and I found myself having a lot of anxiety, dreading going…and just finally stopped. :(. I’d like to try again as I know it is really beneficial. But man…I’m afraid. My whole body seems hypersensitive to any kind of discomfort now, for some reason, and I cannot imagine what the needles in my feet would feel like now.


You must be able to tell them where not to put the needles. I hate them in my feet, my ankles, my wrists and hands and my knees. Anywhere else I allow it. They can do acupressure in my feet if necessary. It’s just too painful and I totally can relate to your anxiety. If you have a good acupuncturist, they will listen to you. Tell them to give you one in the forehead that relaxes. It is like a drug to me. I totally calm down when she does it, and I remember to tell her to do it first every time.

You may need some acupuncture for the anxiety you are feeling as well. Be sure to mention your fears. It only hurts for a couple minutes but brings so much relief. At least for me anyway.

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