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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:

Heavy

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.

Achy

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.

Electric

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.

Tingly

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.

Warm

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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Comments

Kalyana Wolf
Reply

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
Reply

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.

Joy

Sharon Wilhelm
Reply

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!,

Dr.ATHAPHONE
Reply

针灸不但能解决病人所痛之苦,还能减轻病人所依赖的镇痛药。
这是针灸的好处、但不是什么病都能治好、不过用针灸来解决疼痛的某种病,是什么病都可以用上针灸的。
你要相信针灸,针灸才能治好你的病的。

Hami
Reply

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!

Jennifer
Reply

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.

Shastay
Reply

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
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[…] 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 […]

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