I understand the fear of needles. What most people are familiar with is the hypodermic needle of western medicine. They use it to draw blood or inject fluids, so they have to be hollow, and as a result are much bigger than our needles. Ours are solid, and much, much thinner. In fact, they are only about twice the thickness of hair. It’s probably more accurate to describe them as filaments, but needles are the usual word.
When I show them to new patients, and demonstrate how easily you can bend them, they say, “how can you make this go straight?” That’s just one of the skills of the acupuncturist we learn in school. I actually was able to get through a leather shoe with a 34 gauge needle without bending it.
Most new patients are amazed how little they feel when the acupuncture needle is inserted. Sometimes they ask, “Did you put it in already?” If you feel anything, there may be a quick sharp sensation as it goes through the skin. Then there will be nothing at all, or a dull spreading sensation. This is call “big qi.”
That dull spreading sensation isn’t painful, but it can be intense depending on the situation or the needling technique. Some patients are very sensitive, so we don’t needle as deeply on them.
A couple other sensations that we don’t want are the shooting electric feeling if we hit a nerve, or the sharp feeling of being to close to a vein. Neither does much harm. The worst that happens is you get a small bruise in the area. We never get any residual effect from hitting a nerve. You should tell the acupuncturist if you feel the electric or sharp sensations, and they can change the location or direction of the needle. These are rather rare occurrences, though.
Basically, acupuncture is very comfortable, and what little temporary discomfort might occasionally occur is more than made up for by its relaxing and healing effects.