An ancient Chinese practice that has withstood the scrutiny of modern science, acupuncture is a medical art controversial among clients most notoriously for an understandable reason: its nonnegotiable usage of needles. Pain and fear have long been inextricable associations attached to the mere thought or sight of a needle, and so the vast majority of potential patients would rather avoid situations involving one. However, acupuncture in itself is a practice dedicated to the pursuit of relieving pain rather than causing it. Many first-time patients are pleasantly surprised to have experienced mild achiness at most during their acupuncture session, and many more report having found the experience a relaxing one.
Both traditional Eastern medicine and skeptical Western medicine have attempted to uncover why it is that acupuncture does not cause pain—and why it seems to be as effective as it is proven to be. Traditionally speaking, acupuncture needles are used to “unblock” passages of spiritual energy and consequentially relieve the body of associated ailments. These passages, known as meridians among acupuncturists, appear to correlate with major nerve points and cardiovascular pathways in the body. Scientists and practitioners alike assert that acupuncture, then, works by stimulating blood flow and triggering an autonomic response, which in turn stimulates tissue repair necessary to healing specifically targeted sites along the body. Along with this, the brain releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which more or less counteract the superficial pain reactions of penetrating topmost layers of skin.
This is not to say that acupuncture does not produce a sensation at all. Actually, there is even a universally coined term, de qi, used to describe these sensations. Patients are overwhelmingly more likely to feel warmth, tingles, heaviness, achiness, or an electric-like jolt than they are likely to experience any semblance of sharp pain. Overall, these sensations are most often described as “calming,” and professional acupuncturists most usually urge clients to inform them if discomfort begins to occur. Bleeding, also, is very rarely present during acupuncture treatments, estimated to occur only for roughly ten percent of all patients.
Acupuncturists, in the majority of states, are required by law to be licensed in their profession, and the treatment itself entails a great deal of attention placed upon the patient’s individual needs. The needles in use are designed with comfort in mind, made to be extremely thin, flexible so as to prevent breaking, and of a sharpness that does not damage tissues when inserted. Given the careful measures taken to ensure client comfort, as well as the certified expertise of the physician, experiencing severe pain when undergoing acupuncture is actually more anomalous than it is to be expected.