Combatting Meniere’s Disease with Acupuncture: Do the Needles Hurt?

Many folks will tell you that the acupuncture needles don’t hurt.  When I am asked if they hurt, I answer that question with “it depends.” Acupuncture pain is a function of how big the needles are and how deeply they are driven. My favorite acupuncturist uses big needles and drives them deeply. That can hurt. When I asked him about it, he mentioned that he likes to use fewer needles more effectively and feels his technique accomplishes just that. I don’t think he has put more than three needles in me at a time. Sometimes there is pain but he requires fewer visits than other acupuncturists. I have never seen him for more than two visits to help with a single occurence of a health problem.

I have seen another acupuncturist whose attitude is very different. She uses many needles, but I can honestly say that I do not feel them go in. Once during a visit, my knee started to itch while I was relaxing on the table. I reached down to scratch it and she told me to be careful not to disrupt the needles. I didn’t even know that she had put any in. I looked down and was surprised to see at least ten needles in my leg. When I visit her, the needles do not hurt. I don’t even feel them.

There are a couple of reasons why you can be poked with an acupuncture needle and it doesn’t hurt like getting a shot from your doctor. One is simply the small diameter of the needle. A hypodermic needle is much larger than an acupuncture needle because it must pass fluid through its center. An acupuncture needle is not hollow and its insertion feels quite different than that of a hypodermic needle. At the Opus Acupuncture site, you can see the relationship between the sizes of a hypodermic needle and an acupuncture needle. The second reason is that fluid is never injected through an acupuncture needle. The action of shooting fluid into your tissue causes the tissue to compress since there is no place for the fluid to go. Consequently, tissue cells and nerve endings are compressed, causing pain.

While original acupuncture needles were made of stone fragments, bones and bamboo, modern acupuncture needles are made of stainless steel. They are very thin, flexible, and some are only slightly thicker than a human hair. They vary in length from 1/2 inch to five inches. Don’t let the length of the needles scare you. Very seldom are they inserted to their full length. The short needles are used in more sensitive areas, such as face, feet and hands. The longer needles can be used in more fleshy areas like the buttocks. Because the needles are so thin, their insertion rarely causes tissue damage, bruising or bleeding. Needles are typically inserted quickly using a swift, steady hand movement. Needle insertion is a large and intensive part of an acupuncturist’s training.

These surgical stainless steel needles have the advantage that they are easily sterilized and will not rust. However, with the discovery of so many diseases transmitted through blood, most acupuncturists work with disposable needles. They are used just once and thrown away.

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