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Is acupuncture painful?

Most of us carry a fear of needles from early childhood, but this fear is usually an association with thick hypodermic syringe needles, hollow tubes of steel used to inject or withdraw fluids. These are much thicker than even the thickest non-hollow acupuncture needles, which are not commonly used anyway.

For example to have blood drawn the diameter of hypodermic needles is typically between 0.7 and 0.8 mm while the diameter of the most common acupuncture needles is between 0.2 and 0.3 mm.

It’s normal to feel pain when the skin is pierced, although many patients are surprised when they do not feel the insertion of acupuncture needles; it’s a bit of an anticlimax in fact. Most acupoints are also needled quite shallowly.

Other factors which influence pain include the location on the body: we have many more nerve endings on the hands and feet, which makes us more sensitive in those areas. Then the quality of the needles plays a role as well as the technique of insertion.

When an acupuncture point is ‘blocked’ or there is stagnation in the area, one may experience more pain when the point is palpated or needled.