Monday, September 18, 2006

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Everyone’s been stuck with a sewing needle or gotten an injection and that hurts, therefore, acupuncture must hurt. Not true. Generally speaking, the insertion of acupuncture needles is painless.

That being said, everyone is different – practitioner and patient, so an acupuncture treatment may not be exactly pain free. People often anticipate painful needling sensation based on their experience with other sharp objects. They are often pleasantly surprised by how painless an acupuncture treatment can be but some people do experience discomfort. However, with the right technique this can largely be mitigated.

So what happens when there is pain? Well, your skin has many sensory receptors and each type of receptor registers only one type of sensation. When a needle passes through a pressure sensor, you might feel a light touch or nothing. When the needle passes through a temperature sensor, you might feel nothing. But when a needle passes through a pain sensor, you might feel a needle prick. Nearly all of the painful sensation from needling comes from the skin.

Technique of the practitioner is also important. Typically a fast moving needle, passing through the superficial layer of skin, yields little to no sensation at all. Many practitioners, like myself, use the tube that needles are packaged in as a guide to flick the needle into the skin.

An older technique is to simply hold the needle handle, pull the skin taught with the support hand and press the needle into the skin. This technique, properly done, also yields little or no sensation, but with differences in skin tone, it’s a little harder to get consistent results.

Anxiety about needling often produces the most discomfort. People often tense up before needling which actually makes the experience worse for them. Try to relax.

Patients always say, “I don’t like needles.” Well, I’ve never met anyone who did. But then again, I don’t know a lot of people in the piercing crowd. Some people refuse to try acupuncture because of their fear of needles. Many of my patients have referred friends or family members who simply wouldn’t come because acupuncture involves needles.

I had a patient whose sister suffers from migraine headaches. Debilitating, 3-day, lie in the dark headaches. She wouldn’t come because she thought the needling would hurt too much. And just for the record, of all the ailments I treat, headaches are among the most responsive.

Don’t deny yourself some relief because you fear needle pain. Acupuncture is certainly one situation where the remedy IS NOT worse than the disease.

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