Ask an expert: does acupuncture hurt?

Written by Chris Fehres | 3 September, 2020

Does acupuncture hurt?

The two questions asked most frequently about acupuncture are “does it hurt?’ and ‘what does it feel like?’

At first when we insert a needle, patients will generally feel either a tap or, at worst, a faint pin-prick sensation akin to a bug bite. After this, the needle is advanced past the superficial layers of skin. Here in the underlying tissues, a change in the type of nerve fibres means that the body reacts to stimuli differently than it does on the surface of the skin.

There are two main nerve fibres in the body for transmitting pain signals: A-delta fibres which transmit sharp and acute pain at rapid speeds to alert the brain of potential danger; and C-fibres which transmit dull and diffuse pain at slower speeds. These are the nerves we are targeting with the acupuncture needle to produce a dull or heavy sensation that should feel generally pleasant.

It is also quite common to experience sensations of pressure, heaviness or a spreading feeling, warmth, tingling or slight numbness. These sensations are collectively what the ancient practitioners of acupuncture recognised as an activation of Qi ­­– the body’s vital force. On a modern physiological level, it is these sensations that have been found to be present when the most beneficial effects of acupuncture occur.

But don’t needles hurt?

Well, hypodermic needles may certainly give us an unpleasant sensation, but acupuncture needles don’t feel anything like this.

The standard 21-gauge hypodermic needle for taking blood is 0.8 mm in diameter and hollow so it cuts into the flesh, tears the surface and even removes a very small amount of tissue. The average acupuncture needle is just 0.25mm, over three times thinner than a hypodermic needle!

An acupuncture needle is also rocket-tipped so it separates structures within the flesh rather than cutting through it. This significant difference between the two types of needles is why you still have pain at the needle site for some time after an injection as it must go through a wound healing process. As this does not occur with an acupuncture needle, most of the time it does not even draw blood.

So, if the prospect of pain or needle-phobia has been preventing you from experiencing one of the world’s oldest and most unique forms of therapy, have a chat with your local registered acupuncturist about how acupuncture may benefit you.

Chris Fehres

Having completed his Bachelor of Health Science majoring in Acupuncture from Endeavour College of Natural Health in 2015, Chris graduated with distinction and was awarded the medal of academic excellence for highest achievement in acupuncture across Australia. He has participated as an alumni representative for the Course Advisory Committees for both Acupuncture and Bio-sciences departments, as well as having been chosen as the focus for Endeavour's 2017 - 18 Graduate Stories write-up. Going back to where it all began, he currently tutors for Clinical Examination at Endeavour College's Brisbane campus alongside some of the very lecturers that taught him.

Chris has always had a passion for the inner workings of the human body, directing his focus to the ongoing study of human anatomy and physiology and how these systems are influenced by acupuncture. While capable of treating a wide range of conditions with acupuncture, his passion is treating musculoskeletal injuries and conditions. Chris runs a boutique acupuncture clinic from his home in Sherwood, Brisbane called Acupuncture Sherwood.

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