I’m afraid the answer to that one is yes. .. and no!
Most people’s experiences of needles comes from having an injection or giving blood. Those kinds of needles are huge! An acupuncture needle will fit quite neatly inside the hole in the center of a hypodermic needle. Acupuncture needles really are incredibly fine.
So why do some people say they hurt? Well, there are lots of variables involved. Who is doing the acupuncture may make a difference – if you are having a needle stuck into a muscle knot by a physiotherapist who may have done a weekend training course in using acupuncture needles and uses them only once or twice a week, then yes, that may hurt! A properly trained acupuncturist in the UK will have spent three years honing their needling skills.
People in the West often think that any kind of bodily sensation is pain. When I needle people I will often explain beforehand what the feeling will be like. “This will send a slight ache down your leg.”, or “ This will feel like a flat circular object being pressed above your ankle.”, and so forth. The needles initiate a response from the body, but that shouldn’t really be pain. I tell my clients to let me know if they experience any pain, because they aren’t supposed to. And they don’t!
It’s great fun listening to acupuncture virgins having their first experience and trying to explain how it feels: “That’s like a spreading warmth.”, or “That makes my arm feel like it is made out of lead!” The Chinese have a whole list of terms they use to describe the sensation of acupuncture – numbing, spreading, distending, radiating, and so on. Some points are indeed stronger than others, but needling shouldn’t really be painful – as long as it is done by a properly qualified acupuncturist.
The City College of Acupuncture (CCA) course is a three year course with an emphasis on hands-on training in small groups. Students start needling within a few weeks of joining us. By the time they go into the CCA teaching clinic they are confident in what they are doing. That’s the reason why, unlike some other acupuncture schools, we start honing their practical skills from the outset.
As a result, the CCA clinics are always full!