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.