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Does Acupuncture Hurt???

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Without a doubt, the most common question we get regarding acupuncture is not whether it’s effective, or whether it can help your particular ailment, but “DOES ACUPUNCTURE HURT?!”

This is a reasonable question to ask someone who is going to poke you with sharp things in the name of helping you feel better. In fact, I was just asked this question last week by the mechanic when I took my car in for an oil change. He told me how he had been in an astonishing FIVE car accidents in his young lifetime. This guy had been through years of physical therapy, but continued to live with chronic low back pain. He admitted to me that he had heard acupuncture was great for pain, but had not tried it because he was afraid it would…..you guessed it..HURT!

I said to this young man “Well, it does not usually hurt, but it depends.” Surprise! I bet you thought I was going to tell you that acupuncture is always completely pain free. The truth is that themajority of the time acupuncture is painless, but there are some situations where there may be brief discomfort. I’ll explain in more detail in a minute.

Why Do People Assume Acupuncture Will Hurt?

Most people think that acupuncture will feel similar to getting your blood drawn, or getting a shot or injection of some kind. However, it’s nothing like these procedures. To start with, the equipment is totally different! A blood draw or injection needle is hollow at the tip, and is MUCH larger than an acupuncture needle. This type of needle is usually quite inflexible and does not bend when pressure is applied.

Example of what a standard injection syringe looks like. Average size is about a 25-27 gauge or 0.5 to 0.4 mm. These needles are much larger than acupuncture needles.

An acupuncture needle is not hollow, and is TINY compared to other medical needles. It’s so tiny, it’s about the size of a kitten whisker. The size puncture that is made by an acupuncture needle is so small that it very rarely causes any bleeding when it is removed. If it does cause bleeding, it is usually 1-2 small drops that is stopped with brief pressure with a cotton ball, no bandage necessary.

Example of sterile acupuncture needles when inserted. They are so thin and flexible, and come in sterile, single use packaging.

Acupuncture needles are inserted in a different manner than a blood draw or injection. The insertion process is done very quickly. It only takes a fraction of a second for the needle to pass through the skin, and into the muscle beneath. The insertion is often done with the assistance of a sterile guide tube, that helps the practitioner place the needle in a specific location, and then quickly tap the needle in. Most of the sensors in your skin that register pain are in the first couple layers of the skin. Once the needle is through those layers, your body does not register this as a pain sensation. The pain is about the level of a mosquito bite, and lasts about one quarter of a second.

Example of acupuncture needle insertion using a sterile guide tube

Occasionally if an area of your body if acutely injured, or very painful when you come in, the needle insertion might feel a little more tender. I would rate this tenderness to the feeling of a mild bruise. There is usually relief of this tender sensation within 15-30 seconds of the insertion, followed by a lessening of the soreness in the area.

What happens once the needles are in?

Once the needles are inserted the treatment is quite comfortable. You are often not even aware of the needles once they are inserted. Needles are retained in the body for anywhere from 10-40 minutes depending on your specific needs. Most people report feeling deeply relaxed during this time, and it’s quite common to drift off into a short nap (BONUS!) This relaxing effect is achieved through mechanisms such as the up-regulation of endorphins and beta-endorphins (your body’s natural pain relieving substances), and an increase in the production of serotonin and GABA (two neurotransmitters that help us to feel calm and happy).

At the end of your treatment the needles are gently removed and discarded. The removal is completely painless, and there is very rarely any bleeding or bruising where the needles where placed. Occasionally you will feel a mild itch where the needles were, and this subsides within 30-60 seconds.

Acupuncture is almost completely painless. The benefits are worth it for the following reasons.  

  1. The needles are microscopically small, a fraction of the size of injection and blood draw needles
  2. The needle insertion is done so rapidly that the skin barely has time to register a pain signal
  3. Any discomfort is very mild and short-lived (15-30 seconds on average)
  4. The pain relief and benefits that most people experience from acupuncture far outweigh the few seconds of mild discomfort. 

Every new patient we have treated has responded to their first treatment with something to the effect of “That was nowhere near as uncomfortable as I expected to be.” Most wish they had tried it sooner! We hope you find this helpful if you’ve been on the fence about trying acupuncture for fear of discomfort. 

What are some other things you’ve always wanted to know about acupuncture, but maybe were afraid to ask? 

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Acupuncture Provides Relief From Painful Periods: So What Are You Waiting For?

There is a good chance that if you are a person with a period, you have experienced pain associated with your menstrual cycle at some point. One study indicates that as many as 90% of women experience painful periods, and roughly 33% report pain so severe that it requires them to take pain relieving medication such as NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen etc). Many women report pain that requires both medication AND absence from school, work, or other daily life obligations. Despite the fact that the majority of women experience some pain with their menstrual cycle, Western medicine offers few options for the treatment of these complaints. The two most common approaches to the treatment of painful periods are:

  • The prescription of birth control to “regulate” your menstrual cycle
  • The recommendation to take NSAID drugs such as ibuprofen when the symptoms cause discomfort.

Ok so what’s wrong with this picture? Well for starters we have a condition that seriously affects quality of life for up to 50% of women. Then we have treatment options that do NOTHING to address the underlying cause of the condition. These same treatments often produce both immediate side effects and long term consequences for your health. Another important fact is that up to 25% of the women who are prescribed these interventions do not experience improvement with them! Those are discouraging odds for women hoping to get relief from painful periods!

We’ll get more into the risks and side effects birth control, and NSAID drugs in the upcoming weeks, but I will offer this quick overview for now. The most commonly reported side effects of NSAID drugs are stomach pain and irritation, ulcers, headache, dizziness, and high blood pressure, with more serious side effects being risk of kidney and liver damage. It is now common knowledge that when used chronically NSAIDs are damaging to your digestive tract. Common side effects of oral contraceptives  are things like mood swings, weight gain, breast tenderness, headaches, fatigue, and increased risk of blood clots, stroke, and many types of cancer.

One thing that is important to understand is that your menstrual cycle is a delicate balance of signals between your reproductive system, and your nervous system. There are MANY reasons why your period might be painful, heavy, irregular, or otherwise out of balance, and they all have a root cause.

Some of the root causes behind painful periods are:

  1. HORMONAL IMBALANCE-low progesterone, high estrogen or testosterone? these can all affect your cycle length, flow, pain level, mood, sleep, and more (more in next weeks blog post)
  2. DIGESTIVE IMBALANCE-did you know that your digestion plays a role in keeping your hormones balanced and healthy? If your digestion is not functioning optimally this is one thing that can contribute to the accumulation of excess estrogen in the body, also known as estrogen dominance.
  3. CHRONIC STRESS-our stress hormones are intimately connected to our reproductive hormones.
  4. LIVER HEALTH-your liver plays a key role in the activation and processing of many important hormones. If it’s not functioning optimally it makes it hard for your body to achieve optimal hormone balance.
  5. CHRONIC INFLAMMATION-period pain is often marked by higher than normal levels of inflammatory markers in the blood.

So where does Acupuncture come in?! Some studies have shown that acupuncture is as effective as NSAIDS, or birth control  in the treatment of period pain.  The BIG DIFFERENCE it is both EFFECTIVE, and produces NO WIDESPREAD SIDE EFFECTS.

Acupuncture has been shown to both reduce inflammation, and trigger your nervous system to release natural pain relieving compounds like serotonin, endorphins, and acetylcholine. When combined with herbal medicine, and lifestyle modification to address underlying causes of chronic stress, digestive disturbance, and hormone imbalance, you can achieve PAIN FREE periods for a lifetime.

Most women who come into my office have no idea WHY they have pain with their periods, or that there are options are available to them. Women deserve more than band-aid treatment options that simply mask their symptoms. When we work together to create a custom treatment plan these women achieve regular, pain free periods, improved quality of life, and a greater sense of empowerment over their body and health. Women deserve effective, natural solutions that preserve their health, fertility, and well being for a lifetime. Don’t you agree? If you’re ready to take the next steps to work on addressing the root cause of your painful periods, book a FREE initial consult with us here.