What Does Acupuncture Feel Like? The 3 Most Common Things That Happen the First Time You Get Acupuncture
I’ll never forget the very first time I went to get acupuncture.
As soon as the needle went in, I thought I was going to faint, or puke—or both. I later realized that this was purely a response that I developed because I was afraid and didn’t know what to expect. In other words, it was psychosomatic.
If someone had told me what to expect my first acupuncture appointment, I probably would have had a much more enjoyable experience. Since then, I’ve had dozens of treatments, and never anything that (negatively) affected me like that. Usually, I just fall asleep. And that’s saying a lot – for someone who has taken only a few dozen naps in his entire life.
That’s why I want to share with you some of the most common things to expect when you have your first acupuncture appointment.
What Will Usually Happen The First Time You Get Acupuncture
You Laugh, Cry, or Fall Sleep From The Acupuncture Treatment
I’m a current doctoral student in Chinese medicine, and one thing a professor of mine said really struck me.
He said that, generally speaking, there are three things you can expect when you get acupuncture.
The patient will often spontaneously laugh, spontaneously cry, or fall asleep.
I’ll never forget the first time I laughed spontaneously during an acupuncture session. Since I had never experienced anything like that in my entire life, I was pretty afraid and (again) didn’t know what was going on.
After about five or ten minutes with the acupuncture needles in me, I started to feel a little choked up with laughter. You know the feeling where you’re in church, where you have to be quiet, and your parents are glaring at you as your brother or sister tries to get you to laugh?
Because you’re in church and you can’t laugh, you try to bottle in the laughter and it just creates this pressurized feeling, where you feel like you’re going to explode with laughter? The more you try to conceal the laughter, the more the pressure gets, until eventually you just lose it? Well, that’s what it kind of felt like for me.
I tried pushing the laughter down, until eventually, I lost it. I laughed so convulsively that – for 20 minutes – I couldn’t stop, until I had tears streaming down my face. A few minutes later, I fell asleep, and woke up to the acupuncturist asking if I was ready.
Acupuncture Often Releases Stored Emotions
I’ve seen this in many other people and patients too. I’ve also had it happen to me one or two more times. Besides laughing, plenty of people start spontaneously crying.
The typical scenario is that the person feels a strange urge to cry, and they don’t know why they’re crying, but tears are streaming down their face.
What’s interesting (regarding how acupuncture releases emotions) is that most of the time, people don’t feel sad. They just can’t stop crying, and they don’t know why.
Of course, the third most common reaction is that people just fall asleep. The strong relaxation response sets in as you feel the tingling and listen to the little white noise machine.
Eventually you drift off, and you start dreaming. If you have a hard time sleeping at night, you may find that it’s really easy to fall asleep in the acupuncture room.
Does getting acupuncture hurt though?
Getting Acupuncture is Not Like Getting a Shot (Most People Don’t Feel Anything)
The majority of my friends and family have never had acupuncture, and as a result, are nervous.
You might be wondering, “Does it hurt? What does it feel like? I hate needles, so why on earth would I let someone put ten or twenty needles into my body willingly??”
The reality is the following:
- Acupuncture needles are not hypodermic (e.g. hollow, in order to draw blood, which generally means they also need to be larger)
- Acupuncture needles do not have a sharp, cutting tip (a bevel)
- Acupuncture needle gauges are tiny compared to a needle you’d see at the doctor’s office
- Acupuncture needles generally do not hurt, and most people just feel a light buzzing sensation
Anecdotally, in the 25+ times I’ve gotten acupuncture, here’s what I generally tend to feel on the patient-side:
If I get a treatment with 20 needles:
- In about 16 of them, I just feel a buzzing, tingling, or heavy sensation that travels
- About three of them feel slightly sharp when inserted, and within a few minutes it goes away and changes to a feeling of relaxation
- One hurts
Here’s the different between a needle you’re used to in a doctor’s office versus an acupuncture needle.
Hypodermic (doctor’s office shot) needle bevel:
First, there is no edged tip like a hypodermic needle, since they aren’t designed to draw blood.
The tips generally look like this (electron microscope image):
Image: Eastern currents
As a result, they aren’t designed to even be thick enough to draw blood, they aren’t designed for cutting or slicing, and are a fraction of the size.
“Are There Any Side Effects to Acupuncture – or Anything That Can Go Wrong?”
Obviously, if you’ve never had acupuncture, it’s natural to be worried.
Can anything bad happen when you get acupuncture?
Let’s talk about sensations you might experience.
Day to day, 99% of the “side effects” of acupuncture usually are:
- On some insertions, a sharp sensation
If we want to dig into the research a bit more, to see what comes up, here’s what we see.
Clinically, one study sought to see what the primary side effects were over 3,535 acupuncture treatments and found:
- Slight haemorrhage (2.90%) and hematoma (2.2%) which generally just means getting a black and blue welt near an acupuncture point, like a raised bruise.
- Dizziness (1%)
- Nausea, feeling of faintness (less than 1%)
Another study found pretty similar results as far as “side effects,” went, like bruising, nausea and dizziness, for the most common side effects. 2 2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK185079/ ×
Another systematic review found that, in nine studies, the most common adverse events were: 3 3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2214278/pdf/12943357.pdf ×
- Tiredness (2% to 41%)
- Slight bleeding (upon removal) (.03% to 38%)
- Needle discomfort (from 1% to 45%)
On the other side, 86% of patients reported feelings of relaxation.
Acupuncture Adverse Events vs. Conventional Medicine
Iatrogenic causes of death = being treated by a physician or getting medical care
Every once in a while, a scaremonger comes along and says, “Acupuncture is a DANGEROUS practice, look, this one person died from it!”
In the United States, 2016 was a year where research profiled in the British Medical Journal reported that properly prescribed medical treatment is now the 3rd leading cause of death: 4 4. https://hub.jhu.edu/2016/05/03/medical-errors-third-leading-cause-of-death/ × 5 5. https://hub.jhu.edu/2016/05/03/medical-errors-third-leading-cause-of-death/ ×
In their study, the researchers examined four separate studies that analyzed medical death rate data from 2000 to 2008. Then, using hospital admission rates from 2013, they extrapolated that based on a total of 35,416,020 hospitalizations, 251,454 deaths stemmed from a medical error, which the researchers say now translates to 9.5 percent of all deaths each year in the U.S.
According to the CDC, in 2013, 611,105 people died of heart disease, 584,881 died of cancer, and 149,205 died of chronic respiratory disease—the top three causes of death in the U.S. The newly calculated figure for medical errors puts this cause of death behind cancer but ahead of respiratory disease.
Mentioned in a World Health Organization report, the rate of death or serious injury (e.g. organ damage), or a hospital admission from acupuncture mentioned in one observational study of 190,000+ patients was a combined 0.024% . 6 6. http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/12/10-076737/en/ × That works out to about 45 people. 7 7. http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/12/10-076737/en/ ×
Compare that to the 251,000+ deaths cited above, that looks like this:
Actually, 45 injuries/deaths doesn’t even show up on this chart, so I had to put in 3,000.
Obviously, there are problems with this information. E.g. we don’t know the reporting standards in Asia (like China), or the rate of adverse events. But inside acupuncture circles, it’s extremely rare to see series injuries or hospital admissions from it.
What Will Realistically Happen Your First Appointment
Most of the time, people tend to feel a deep sense of relaxation, pain relief, buzzing, tingling, and numbness, and every once in a while, a bit of a sharp sensation upon insertion (that goes away after several minutes).
Other than that, most people have a great first experience and begin to crave the feeling of relaxation from acupuncture.
Are you planning on trying acupuncture? What is your #1 question or concern?