What Happens When You Have Acupuncture?

Some people are frightened by the thought of acupuncture and may feel that it takes a great deal of courage to inflict 'the needles' on themselves. The first, and probably the most important fact to understand about acupuncture, is that it is not a painful experience. It does involve the insertion of fine needles through the skin at each treatment session. The needles used are smaller and much thinner than injection needles and they have a doweled end, not a cutting end like most hypodermic needles, and therefore are unlikely to cause tissue damage or bruising when inserted.

Needle Insertion

The insertion of an acupuncture needle is not a painful experience. Patients sometimes sit with eyes closed and teeth clenched asking, “When are you going to put the needles in?” and are often surprised to learn that the needles are in place before they have finished asking the question. Those who experience acupuncture do not usually describe it as a painful sensation.

Needling Sensation

The Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that if acupuncture is to achieve its maximum effect, it is necessary for the acupuncturist to obtain a 'needling sensation' over each acupuncture point that is used. This involves the needle being moved slightly while it is in the skin, and the sensation experienced by the patient will vary. Needling sensation is not painful, but it is a dull, bursting or numb sensation around the site of the inserted needle. The sensation may also travel up or down the channel being treated; the stimulation of an acupuncture point on the right knee may precipitate the experience of tingling or nerve-like sensation in the right ankle.  Dr. Liu prefers to use a points stimulator in which 3 or 4 size D batteries are used, so called  "Electroacupuncture", to stimulate the  acupuncture points. You are supposed to have a tingling, pulsating or vibration like sensation over the acupuncture points that are being stimulated.


One misconception is that patients have to 'believe' in acupuncture for it to work, that this is a complex form of suggestibility. This is wrong.  Any type of medicine will work on those who do and those who do not believe in it. The mechanism of acupuncture, although not clearly understood, can quite definitely reproduce biological changes when an acupuncture needle penetrates the skin. Although it is believed that any medical treatment is more effective if the doctor has the trust of the patient, this trust is not necessary for the physiological changes to occur.


Sometimes a patient may experience a temporary worsening of symptoms due to acupuncture; this is a response to treatment and is a good sign. Such 'reactions' to treatment only last for a short time, perhaps a day or two, and are usually followed by improvement. A 'reaction' usually means that the acupuncture needles have been overstimulated as some patients are very sensitive to acupuncture and may respond to normal stimulation by overreacting. If a 'reaction' occurs, the patient should be stimulated less at the next treatment session. This means giving a shorter and less aggressive treatment. Sometimes the improvement may be very delayed, and the condition may not improve until the treatment has ceased.