Does acupuncture hurt?

Does acupuncture hurt? Well, it’s complicated…

This is a question I hear all the time, and for good reason. If you’ve never had acupuncture, of course you would question if being stuck with a needle would hurt. Well, the answer to the question “does acupuncture hurt” requires a little explanation…

It’s possible that you may feel pain during an acupuncture session. This is predominantly due to the needle being inserted too slowly through the first layer of the skin, where there are a lot of superficial nerve endings. If, however, the needle is inserted quickly, then you’ll likely not feel any pain at all.

A guide tube is often used to help with both needle insertion and sterile needle technique. It can distract the skin nerves enough to make insertion painless. How? Because the tube has a larger surface area than the point of a needle and therefore the brain recognizes the sensation of the tube more than the needle.

Like a mother comforting her baby who’s about to get a shot, guide tubes work to distract the patient.

Size matters when talking about needles

Remember that acupuncture needles are quite small. Let’s compare the average hypodermic needle size to an acupuncture needle. If you’re going to get your blood drawn, the phlebotomist will need a needle that is 22-21 gauge, which translates to 0.8–0.7 mm. Let’s compare that to the average acupuncture needle, which is about 0.25 mm though can be as thin as 0.16 mm. You can see that the acupuncture needle is significantly smaller than a hypodermic needle, which will decrease the amount of pain you feel upon insertion.

So what am I going to feel?

Other sensations you may feel could be categorized under the TCM term, deqi [Duh Chee]. This is a sensation that most practitioners are aiming for to know if the body is interacting with the needle in a therapeutic way.

Deqi sensation is typically felt as aching, soreness, or a dull pressure. The second most common set of sensations would be tingling, numbness, dull pain, heaviness, warmth, fullness, and coolness. All of these are considered positive to achieve pain-relieving and other desired therapeutic effects.

Research has shown that various types of nerve fibers are involved in deqi sensations and have a component in acupuncture’s pain-relieving ability. Each nerve fiber type has a different sensation involved with it.

You’ll feel various sensations that are completely normal.

Acupuncturists are trained extensively in anatomy, including which structures lie beneath each acupuncture point. This means that receiving acupuncture is very safe if you get it from a licensed practitioner. Everyone’s anatomy does vary slightly, so if a needle gets too close to a major nerve, you may feel a sensation as if someone hit your “funny bone.” If that happens, the acupuncturist will simply withdraw the needle slightly or take it out completely. The sensation should dissipate momentarily after that.


Does acupuncture hurt? In most cases, acupuncture is painless. It is far less painful than getting an injection or drawing blood. There are, however, sensations that you are likely to feel which are a good sign:

  • Aching
  • Soreness
  • Pressure
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Dull pain
  • Heaviness
  • Warmth
  • Fullness
  • Coolness

You will not experience all of these at once; most likely only one or two per session. These sensations will not last the whole treatment. More likely, they will only last a few minutes or just while the needles are being stimulated.

Please, don’t feel shy about telling your acupuncturist what you’re feeling during a session, especially if something is uncomfortable. They want to hear about it so they can make the appropriate adjustments.

Because acupuncture works on our bodies’ opioid system, most people find acupuncture therapeutic and extremely relaxing. Falling asleep during a treatment is common. So next time you’re in an acupuncture session, put your mind at ease knowing your practitioner knows exactly what they’re doing.

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