Does Acupuncture Have Side Effects? Does it Hurt?

If you have never had acupuncture before, you may be wondering:

Are there any side effects?

Is there anything I shouldn’t do afterwards?

Does it hurt?

Read on to find out.

Does Acupuncture Have Any Side Effects?

Acupuncture is generally considered safe with few side effects.

potential side effects from acupuncture

Common side effects of acupuncture include soreness, minor bleeding or bruising at the site where the needles were inserted.

Minor Bleeding Leading to Bruising

Just like a bruise from banging your leg for example, a bruise from a minor bleed at a needled point will disappear in between one and three weeks without requiring treatment.

Soreness After Acupuncture

Soreness after acupuncture is caused by a contraction of the muscle in response to the stimulation of being needled. This side effect is usually only seen when treating structural imbalances, not when treating organ imbalances. Any soreness usually goes away immediately once the needle is removed, but can last from two to forty-eight hours. Applying heat to the area can usually quickly alleviate the pain.

Fatigue Following Acupuncture

If you feel unwell after acupuncture, lacking energy and feeling fatigued, this means that the Yin, Yang, Qi and/or Blood in your organs is deficient. In this case, Chinese herbal medicine is needed. Cases are rare. In our seventeen years of clinical experience, we have only run into three cases.


This is quite a rare side effect. It is said that acupuncture should be avoided when hungry, thirsty, or nervous. However, in our experience, as long as these patients are lying down for acupuncture they will be fine. Fainting is more likely to occur when acupuncture is applied with the patient in a seated position. At Centre of Balance, we always get new patients to lie down for their first experience with acupuncture. If we are going to perform acupuncture on a seated patient we are careful to check in with the patient about how they are feeling, and remind them to let us know if they feel faint.

Should fainting occur, needles are removed immediately. We then ensure the patient is lying down, and we give them some warm sugar water to drink. There are no lasting effects from fainting during acupuncture.

Odd Sensations and Involuntary Movements

Occasionally patients will experience odd sensations during acupuncture such as their feet or hands feeling as though cold wind were blowing out of them, or the feeling of Qi (energy) moving around the body. Sometimes a part of the body that had been cold becomes warm. Very rarely patients will experience repetitive involuntary movements, such their hands or legs gently moving backwards and forwards. This is a beneficial effect and it is one way that you know the acupuncture is working. Again though, this is quite rare and the absence of such sensations should not be interpreted as treatment failure. It’s usually quite easy to tell if acupuncture is working. If when you come in for treatment you are experiencing symptoms, you should see an immediate improvement in them.

Tell Your Practitioner

Some people will need to exercise caution when seeking acupuncture treatment. Individuals with bleeding disorders or those taking blood thinners may experience increased odds of bleeding or bruising from the needles. Additionally, those with pacemakers should be sure to inform their practitioner, as electro-acupuncture (involving the application of mild electrical pulses to the needles, seldom used at Centre of Balance) could interfere with the pacemaker’s operation. Pregnant women should also ensure their practitioners are aware, as certain acupuncture points are believed to stimulate labor, potentially leading to premature delivery. This does not mean that acupuncture must be avoided during pregnancy – far from it. Acupuncture can help with the many issues that tend to come up during pregnancy eg. acid reflux and joint pain. It can even be used as a prebirth treatment to help ensure a smooth labour.

Is There Anything I Shouldn’t Do After Acupuncture?

After an acupuncture session, there are several activities and substances that should be avoided to maximize the benefits of the treatment.


If you feel lightheaded or dizzy after your appointment, you should avoid driving until you feel better. Please let us know so we can assist you.

Strenuous activities

Despite the potential energy boost from the treatment, engaging in intense exercise could negate some of the benefits of the acupuncture session.

Dietary Choices

Drinking plenty of water is recommended to help flush out toxins released during the treatment. Consumption of coffee and alcohol should be avoided as they can cause dehydration. Similarly, processed foods, fried foods, sugar, junk food, and fast food should be avoided. Crowd them out of your diet by choosing whole food, plant-based meals which will nourish the body so that you can experience maximum healing effects.

Cold temperatures

Cold air, cold drinks, cold showers, and even eating cold foods can counteract the benefits of acupuncture by contracting the flow of qi.

Sexual Activity

Engaging in sexual activity immediately after an acupuncture session is not recommended as it can demand too much qi and inhibit healing. It is best to wait until the day after acupuncture to resume such activities.

Instead of these activities, focus on resting your body and relaxing your mind. Take a nap, read a book, listen to some calming music or just hang out with your friends. Whatever you do, make sure it is something that allows your body and mind the time needed for healing.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Acupuncture needles vary in size but are all much thinner than those you may be familiar with from blood draws or injections. This is because they are solid rather than requiring a hollow centre as with syringe needles.


The perception of pain during acupuncture varies from one individual to another. For most people, the insertion of acupuncture needles causes little to no discomfort. However, you may feel a slight sting as the needle is being inserted. Once the needle is in place, some individuals may experience a tingling or ache, referred to as de qi. If the needle is moved or twirled after placement, it can cause an increase in the de qi sensation. However, intense pain is not what we are going for, so if in a rare instance you were to experience strong pain, it would be important to let the acupuncturist know so that they could adjust or remove the needle.

What if I’m Afraid of Needles?

Although acupuncture usually doesn’t cause discomfort or pain (in fact many people find it helpful as a means to control a variety of painful conditions) some people simply don’t like needles. I know this only too well, because I’m one of them.

Many of you know me only as Szenan’s wife, but patients who have been with us longer remember the days when I too practiced in our clinic (a good decade ago by now I think). So yes, ridiculous as it sounds, I am a trained acupuncturist who doesn’t like needles! In defense of others like me, this doesn’t mean that we’re wimps. Pain I can handle. I gave birth to both my children at home without any pain relief other than acupressure and light touch massage. Any time I need a filling, it’s done without anaesthetic. I just think it’s quite a primal instinct in some people to avoid their skin being pierced.

What to do then? Well, I can tell you that there have often been times when the pain I’m in from an injury or illness far exceeded any disinclination I had towards needling. But at other times, I simply ask Szenan for one of the forms of needling I find the least painful.

Types of Acupuncture and Sensation Intensity

Listed from ‘most likely to result in a strong sensation’ to ‘so painless a baby can be needled and still be smiling by the end’.

  • Needling including manipulation (twirling) to obtain the de qi feeling. Needles retained for 20 – 40 minutes.
  • Needling including manipulation (twirling) to obtain the de qi feeling. Needles not retained.
  • Needling with no manipulation. Needles retained for 20 – 40 minutes.
  • Needling with no manipulation. Needles not retained.
  • Scalp acupuncture.
  • Baby acupuncture – just a tiny prick, with only a millimeter or two of the needle entering the skin and removed again immediately, interspersed with fake pricks where just the finger and thumb of the practitioner tap the skin. Check out the video below of my son receiving treatment. Laugh if you will, but I’ve had Szenan do this for me when I wanted treatment but wasn’t feeling up to having any of the other methods done.

Acupressure deserves a mention here too, but I recommend it mainly as an adjunct to acupuncture, practiced at home between acupuncture sessions on points given to you by your practitioner. It is difficult to get the same results with acupressure and if what you’re after is a pain-free option, acupressure is not it. Acupressure performed by a practitioner is usually significantly more painful than acupuncture. If you’re really afraid of needles, ask your practitioner to start with baby acupuncture or scalp acupuncture until your anxiety wanes.

Scalp acupuncture is usually my preferred option because despite a tiny sting when the needles are going in, you generally can’t feel them at all while they’re in. Plus, you’re free to move your body however you like with no risk of disturbing them unless you accidentally run your fingers through your hair, in which case they just fall out.

Can I Really Ask For A Specific Treatment Method?

Of course! But it’s important to note that your practitioner will recommend the treatment method they consider most effective for your specific condition and constitution. If you ask for another method in order to feel more comfortable with having acupuncture, the effectiveness may be reduced somewhat, especially with baby acupuncture on an adult. However, sometimes a few of the lowest sensation treatments can give you the confidence to move up towards standard treatments, because actually they’re really not that painful anyway, and the benefits far outweigh the minimal discomfort. Many patients who are a bit anxious at their first session are surprised by how little they feel. You might not even realize that a needle has gone in.

Where Does Acupuncture Hurt Most?

Points on the torso are generally the least painful, followed closely by the scalp in my opinion. The limbs tend to hurt a little more. The closer you get to the fingertips and toes the more nerve endings, therefore the more potential for pain. Again, most people feel little to no discomfort when receiving acupuncture and skilled practitioners can often find ways to make even points on the fingertips less painful. However, if you’re concerned about pain and you see a practitioner using an alcohol wipe on your fingertip you might want to ask if there’s an alternative point they can use.

In conclusion, acupuncture is considered to be a safe treatment option. Potential side effects are generally minor and most people are surprised at how little it hurts. Always consult with a certified practitioner and disclose any relevant health information prior to treatment.

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