Whether you’re experiencing pain or other specific symptoms, feeling anxious, or looking for more mental and emotional wellbeing, you’ve heard acupuncture can help and that sounds great, but then you think about the acupuncture needles and come to a halt about moving forward to making an appointment. Does this sound like you?
Fear of needles is relatively common, especially in a culture where the typical experience results in pain related to getting poked for blood draws, receiving injections or shots, or having an IV started for infusing medications into your vein. As a long time Registered Nurse myself, working in hospitals for 18 years before becoming an acupuncturist, I can understand the fear and I can also tell you, acupuncture needles are nothing like it.
Oftentimes, in the moment after placing a needle, I will inquire about how it felt and be met with a reply like; “I didn’t feel anything”.
Acupuncture needles are designed differently than those used in standard medical settings. They are much thinner with a conical tip coming to a very fine point versus a beveled edge, giving a different sensation upon insertion that is often not felt. You can even insert about 2-3 acupuncture needles inside the lumen (opening) of a syringe needle. It is true that acupuncture needles come in a variety of gauges (widths) and lengths, and also there are different styles and techniques of needle insertion with acupuncture where the gentlest of approach can be used.
What you might feel during an acupuncture session…
When I treat you with acupuncture, I will have already prepared you with some combination of massage, relaxation, intention setting, and breathing. As needles are inserted into acupuncture points, your experience can range anywhere on the spectrum from feeling no sensation at all to a variety of sensations: there can be an initial mild and brief sharp feeling that quickly subsides. Commonly, what is felt after the initial moment of insertion has to do with qi sensations, including tingling, traveling, heavy, weighty, dense, expanding, fluttering, twitchy, warming, or cooling, opening, and settling.
One thing I usually tell patients is that if there is more tension in an area of the body where I am inserting the needle, you’re more likely to feel a sensation. Most patients find that the feelings produced by the needles become welcome sensations, engaging them meaningfully with the symptoms that have led them to seek treatment.
The Chinese character for acupuncture point (穴道) is the combination of Xue (穴), meaning cave or den, and Dao (道), meaning way or path. A cave or den is an internal recessed open space, providing a sacred place for something to happen. Needling acupuncture points offers an experience that is like opening up to a vortex of qi inside a cave, accessing the pathway for life to move and flow. Many people receiving acupuncture are moved to express their experience using a language full of poetics and mystical descriptions.
What I often hear at the end of the session is “Wow, whatever just happened, that was deep”.
Beyond acupuncture needling …acupressure and more…
Needling works to stimulate qi at acupuncture points as well as help calm the qi movement, inducing a relaxed state and restoring spiritual strength to the body. Along with your acupuncture treatment, I provide acupressure (manual pressure on acupuncture points) as well using other gentle techniques in addition to, or even instead of acupuncture needles to help open and stimulate acupuncture points and meridians on the body. I also commonly use essential oils and tuning forks on acupuncture points to enhance the acupressure effect.
Essential oils are among our most concentrated and active botanical preparations. The physiology of the oils entering the body through nasal inhalation is well understood in aromatherapy. We know that the compounds in the oils contact the olfactory bulb and that in smelling them, we activate the deepest chambers of the midbrain in the limbic system associated with memory and regulating emotions. When essential oils are placed on acupuncture points something unique occurs – in addition to smelling the oils diverse compounds, there is an interaction between the essence of the plant and the spirit of the acupuncture point. This dynamic is a kind of magical alchemy that is uniquely challenging to explain. For many people experiencing the feeling of the oils on the acupuncture points is an undeniable healing experience. During your treatment, I often provide acupressure by applying a specifically chosen essential oil, gently massaging it into the acupuncture point or massaging a general area of focus on the body, such as the back and neck when there is pain and tension.
Tuning forks provide sound healing through vibrational frequencies. For centuries acupuncturists have used a variety of non-insertive tools to enhance acupressure treatments. Recent decades have seen a growing use of weighted tuning forks to provide real vibrational healing to the acupuncture meridian system. This combination of sound healing and acupressure offers a deep feeling of body-centered wholeness. Many patients feel that tuning fork treatments touch them at a core level emotionally and kinesthetically.
When I apply tuning forks to the acupuncture points, the response I get back from patients usually begins with an intentionally deep relaxing breath followed by sharing how deeply they can feel the vibration penetrating beyond where the tuning fork is placed, expressing how relaxing and opening it feels in the body.
I often apply tuning forks to an important acupuncture point at the bottom of the foot, called Kidney 1 or Bubbling Spring; patient’s tell me they can feel the sound vibration all the way up their legs and into their hips and low back, resulting in a sensation of opening up of that area.
The best way to approach an acupuncture treatment if you have never had one is to allow yourself to be curious about how your body will respond. How will you feel after the treatment, what kinds of sensations will you feel? Everyone is different and some are able to feel the energy moving around in their bodies while others don’t feel a thing. The most important thing to remember is the treatment will be just as effective whether you feel sensations or not.
Acupuncture can be experienced with very little pain and often any tiny sharp sensations become comfortable and welcome. In addition, the options for non-insertive treatments are often as powerful as acupuncture itself. Come receive acupuncture and experience healing energy moving through your body.
Laura Allmacher RN, LAc is an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner at Heart Spring Health, a holistic health clinic located in Southeast Portland, Oregon. Laura received her Master’s degree in Oriental Medicine from the National University of Natural Medicine. Dedicated to the healing arts since 2000, Laura brings a well of knowledge cultivated over years of experience with a background in western medicine as a registered nurse, in herbal medicine and natural health therapies, and as a professional astrologer. Specializing in acute/chronic pain, digestive issues, women’s health, and mental and emotional wellbeing, Laura loves to bring all her resources to life in support of individuals healing at the deepest and most transformational level they are ready for. Click here to learn more about Laura.
Photos courtesy of author