Ow?!?!: Needles, Fear, and Pain

So many of us have a fear of needles. Whether we associate needles with blood drawing, shots, piercings, or that awesome tattoo - they all hurt. The reality is that none of those needles compare to an acupuncture needle. Yet try telling your fear that. So what is the reality check your fear may need when gearing up for pain from a needle or perhaps making the decision that first time to trust an acupuncture needle?

Let’s talk size. A vaccination needle typically ranges 0.5 mm to 0.7 mm in diameter. Drawing blood and catheterization uses thicker needles that vary in size depending on the vein being punctured. The standard is 1.2 to 1.8 mm diameter, although hand draws or children may have a needle as small as 0.6 mm used. Piercing needles are hollow tubes that range in size from 1.0 mm to 2.7 mm.

Conversely, tattoo needles vary according to the intricacy of the work. They range from 0.2 mm for fine work to 0.35 mm (the most commonly used size). Different then acupuncture, tattoo needles are also grouped together to create a precise artistic effect.

In our practice, we use acupuncture needles between 0.16 and 0.46 mm thick, with 0.25 mm needles being the average. These are at least half of the diameter of the needles most people have experienced.

What makes acupuncture needles different? Most acupuncture needles are covered in silicon. This creates a coating so that individual cells do not stick to the movement of the needle. A smoother, steady insertion causes less pain. The top of your skin has the most pain receptors. Acupuncturists use guide tubes or force to move through the skin level quickly to decrease pain. The initial pinch for most people is not terribly painful. However if you are braced for pain, the skin tightens and more pain occurs. However, the pain should not last. It is important to communicate with your acupuncturist if the pain does not dissipate. Often a shift in the depth of the needle or making you more comfortable will solve the problem.

In our practice, we utilize mindfulness and breath to help people with either their fear of needles, painful experiences, or an inability to let go enough to relax on the table. By communicating exactly how you feel about needles and each individual needle that is inserted, you can be guided into a deeper and less stressful experience. Of course, there are a bunch of needles in your body for 20 to 40 minutes, so laying still is required. Make sure you are comfortable and that you can relax in the position you are in by letting the acupuncturist know while he or she is with you what may need to change. Some of our clients relax instantly, some don’t. We regularly encounter and are trained to work with both.

One of the most common reasons that people stop seeing an acupuncturist mid treatment strategy is from a painful acupuncture treatment. They may be receiving results, noticing relaxation, and enjoy acupuncture. Then one time, a needle hurts and acupuncture is no longer used. I often ask these people if they told the acupuncturists that the needle(s) hurt. Ironically, no one has ever answered that question with a “Yes”. I question that. Would you tell your doctor if a medicine you were on was giving you a side effect? Why not treat your acupuncturist the same way? Let him or her know what you are feeling. A good acupuncturist will not try to convince you the treatment did not hurt. Rather he or she will be able to work with the needles to create a more relaxing, less stressful experience. You should not try to be coerced into treatment if you do not feel safe. Just communicate how you feel and leave the rest up to the trained professional in front of you. Maybe you can have a better experience as a result.

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