• Alexis Hileman L.Ac.

I Have A Fear of Needles - Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Fear of needles?

If you have a phobia of needles, then treating with needling sites on the back of neck, mid-back and lower back may be the best option for you. There are fewer nerve endings in the back than there are on the hands and feet, so the insertion of the needles is much more tolerable (its a "tougher" area, if you will).

It also seems that when patients get to lay on their front side, they are more relaxed. Perhaps this reminds them of getting a massage and this position naturally lets us relax our muscles and close our eyes vs. being completely aware of our surroundings in an upright position. Treating on the back is also a very versatile option. You can treat back pain, anxiety, PMS and digestive disorders because you can choose so many points that can affect different organ levels.

Acupuncture needles are hair-thin. They are so thin, you can fit 42 (yes, 42!) acupuncture needles inside the bore of a blood drawing needle. People are often surprised that they can hardly feel the needles, and most of the time they aren't felt at all.

Getting back to needles

When you think of needles, what do you think of? Your thoughts are probably not pleasant - the dentist, medical surgery, nurses, doctors! It may even make you cringe, which is an understandable and natural reaction. Most of us have had an experience with hypodermic needles at least once in our lives - maybe you have rolling veins and an inexperienced nurse left your arm full of track marks and bruises one time. Hypodermic needles are fairly thick and hollow because they are designed to inject fluids or draw blood. For this reason, they may cause a more painful sensation when piercing your skin.

Acupuncture needles = cat whisker

Acupuncture needles are the size of a cats whisker. As mentioned above, you can fit 42 acupuncture needles inside the bore of a blood drawing needle. They are about 10 times smaller in size than the average hypodermic needle—approximately the size of a cat’s whisker—and they are very flexible. Acupuncture needles don’t hurt in the way that hypodermic needles do; however, you may feel a light sensation as they are inserted. At worst, you might feel a sensation like a pinch. The needles stay in for about 15 to 45 minutes depending on the type of treatment you are receiving. After the treatment people report feeling extremely relaxed and calmer.

What happens after insertion?

At the initial insertion, a needle passes through the top layer of the skin. This thin layer of your skin contains pain receptors just under the surface level. Quickly bypassing this layer, is a crucial part of the acupuncturist's role so that you don’t feel the typical burning pinch that occurs with needling.

Here's an analogy you may be able to relate to... imagine wading into a cold pool. You know going in that the water isn’t at its warmest. In fact, you've likely freaked yourself out and caused it to be colder in your mind than it actually is. But once under, the temperature feels fine. It’s all about the depth! Once you get the needle through the skin to the right depth, the tube is removed and the needle is guided to the correct depth of insertion. For most acupuncture points, this is only 0.5 to 0.8 cm.

Is there anything inside the needle?

No. Not at all. Acupuncture needles are not hollow so there can be nothing injected into the body. The magic of the needles’ effects on the body comes from the signaling that they send through the nerve points to push the body to heal something on its own. If consistent with your treatment and done enough times, the symptoms can be resolved.

You may feel some other sensations that let you know that the needle is “activated” and working on your body. Feelings can include tingling, numbness, throbbing, generalized heavy sensation on the area of the needle or even a "lightness" to the area.

What if I just cant do acupuncture?

If you have a phobia of needles that reaches the point of not even considering acupuncture, then many people (in this situation) will benefit from the other services an acupuncturist can provide such as cupping, gwa sha (muscle scraping) and Chinese herbal formulas.

Your practitioner is likely to have had the conversation with many patients before you about their fear of needles. It is important that you trust your acupuncturist because he or she will listen to your concerns and work with you to be as gentle and caring as possible.


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