Do Acupuncture Needles Hurt?

One open house, I had a 12 year old tell her parents there was no way she was getting acupuncture because it would hurt. I said, try one point and tell me exactly what you think. She closed her eyes because she didn’t want to see it, and held out her arm.
I put a needle in.
She said, “ok, I’m ready, you can do it.”
“I already have.”
She opened her eyes. “Whoa. I didn’t feel anything!” she laughed. “Do another.”
I put in one more needle with her eyes open. “Did you feel that?” I asked.
“Nothing like a shot, right?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t much.”

And that is a typical response when I needle people. I can’t guarantee that someone won’t feel it. But it’s nothing like when you get a shot. The reason why is because hyperdermic needles are hollow and punch a hole through skin and tissue to dispense something (like medication) or take something out (like blood). Acupuncture needles are solid, not hollow, and as a result, are often much smaller. I often say, if I had a dollar for when people who come in really scared tell me, “oh that’s nothing!”

That said, people have different sensitivities so my treatments do vary and if someone is super sensitive, i tend to do a lighter treatment with fewer needles whereas if someone is not sensitive at all, we do a more intense treatment. I will check in along the way to make sure you are ok. If you are scared at all, it helps for me to know that. It’s always a good idea to talk to your acupuncturist about your fears.

If I know one point is a sensitive point and it will hurt, I will tell you because you should have the right to say no. But you should also have the right to be informed on why it might help you. For example, kidney 1 is on the bottom of the foot. It hurts when it’s needled. But I have a few people with peripheral neuropathy who say it’s the point that makes the most difference for the pins and needles sensations in their feet, so they are willing to deal with the pain. They tried it once even though i warned them it would hurt, and they felt it made a huge difference, so they are willing to put up with the pain. But they knew ahead of time because we discussed it. Which is how I work. I like for people to know what to expect. If you are nervous about acupuncture, set up an appointment and try it. You can always stop the session. But in my 11 years as an acupuncturist I’ve never had someone want to stop. I have turned people away if they were shaking too much, because I was worried that they are in too much trauma when nothing has happened yet, but I’ve discovered most people are fine after a few needles.

Katherine MacKenzie, LAc

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