That depends. Most people agree that at most it feels like plucking out a hair from your scalp. That’s as the needle slides through your skin. Acupuncture needles are very slim, and they slide in very easily.
So, not much.
But many people say they feel nothing as the needle goes in.
And there a few people who have very sensitive skin and for them acupuncture may not be the best therapy. How many? Our guess: one in five hundred people.
However, that’s not quite the end of the story because once the needle reaches the necessary depth (often just a few millimetres), if the acupuncturist knows what she or he is doing, a sensation known as ‘deqi’ (“day-chee”) is often felt as the needle begins to do its job.
‘Deqi’ means ‘grabbing the qi’ and it’s the start of the treatment. It’s hard to describe: not pain, but more like a tightening or gripping.
Some people say it feels numb or heavy. Sometimes the sensation travels along the meridian or channel, or is diffused round the needle.
Normally this deqi sensation gradually dissipates within a few minutes.
Don’t be too worried about this deqi sensation! It’s not a big deal, and although getting deqi isn’t always necessary, it’s useful feedback for you and for your acupuncturist.
Deqi is not used in all forms of acupuncture. Japanese acupuncture, for example, seldom needs to get it, but acupuncturists using this method often know if their needling has been successful because of other forms of feedback, such as the disappearance of sensitivity or pain somewhere elsewhere on the body.
FAQ 4: How long does an acupuncture session take?
Apart from the first session, treatments seldom take more than 45 minutes, but we usually allow one hour so that you don’t feel hurried.
However, the first consultation is important. Don’t rush it. That’s where your acupuncturist finds out about you and the reason for your visit.
If he can diagnose your condition clearly at that first meeting, your acupuncturist will have a much better idea of what to do.
Consequently any improvement should come sooner.
FAQ 5: Does my doctor have to be told or to know that I am having acupuncture?
No, but we encourage you to tell your doctor.
Sometimes what we do may lead to a situation where you could or should reduce your medication, and we always suggest you discuss this with your doctor before making changes.
If you want us to write to your doctor about your treatment we are glad to do so.
FAQ 6: What can Acupuncture help with?
That’s an excellent question and if you read what our patients say or those of any other qualified acupuncturist, we think you’ll hear some remarkable stories.
But because in the UK there is now a code of advertising which requires robust scientific evidence before any health claims can be made in print or online, and getting this costs staggeringly huge sums of money, we can’t tell you about this.
Pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee (“it must be made clear that effects are temporary and that acupuncture is used as an adjunctive treatment, not a standalone one”.)
Actually, by the time you read this, some of the above may be out of date because a huge amount of research worldwide is being carried out under strict reporting conditions. It is getting much harder to deny that acupuncture is effective for many conditions.
FAQ 7: Is there anything your practitioner needs to know?
Apart from the usual medical details (see Consultation), it is important that you let your practitioner know:
If you have ever experienced a fit, faint or funny turn.
If you have a pacemaker or any other electrical implants.
Whether you have a bleeding disorder.
If you are taking anti-coagulants or any other medication.
If you have damaged heart valves or have any other particular risk of infection.
FAQ 8: After acupuncture is it safe to be a Blood Donor?
In 1995 there was careful discussion between acupuncturists and doctors in the British Blood Transfusion services. They agreed that there is no reason for acupuncture in itself to prevent people from donating blood. That’s as long as a competent and professionally registered practitioner does the acupuncture.
Having said that, some localised Blood Transfusion Services may not realise how safe acupuncture is.
However, the conditions for which acupuncture is being given may be a reason for deferral.
FAQ 9: How do I know whether my acupuncturist is properly insured?
If your practitioner is a member of the British Acupuncture Council, your practitioner is fully insured, for example, against professional negligence.
If you are in doubt, ask to see your practitioner’s BAcC annual membership card. In countries outside the UK, ask to see the practitioner’s insurance certificate.
FAQ 10: How do I know the acupuncture needles in use are safe?
Until a few years ago, acupuncturists cleaned used needles then auto-claved them. (An autoclave is a special kind of pressure cooker. In it, steam reaches a much higher temperature than normal boiling point for water, and is kept at that pressure for a period of time, calculated to destroy all known organisms that might infect you.)
However, the advent of greater understanding about prions, bits of protein that aren’t destroyed in autoclaves yet can lead to what became known as Mad Cow Disease, for example, mean that now all acupuncture needles are single use and pre-sterilised in the factory from where they arrive at your acupuncturist’s clinic in sealed wrappings.
Before each treatment you’ll hear or see your acupuncturist unwrapping the needles to be used from their sterilised wrapping.
After use, all needles are disposed of in a ‘sharps’ box.
FAQ 11: How confidential are my treatments and the notes about it?
Completely confidential. Your notes are normally kept for at least 7 years, under lock and key. If you are a child, your notes are kept until you are 25.
FAQ 12: Who wrote the answers to those first 11 questions?
The same person who wrote the site and would have got further on with it had he not been seeing patients and writing books, lecturing and doing other stuff, including answering questions from visitors to the site from all round the world.
FAQ 13: WAIT! I’ve thought of another question!…
Write it in the form below and we’ll answer it as soon as we can.
You never know, it might be elevated to the giddy status of becoming a Frequently Asked Question!