Acupuncture uses fine needles to stimulate certain points all over the body, in accordance with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) priniciples. These points lie on meridians, or channels, that are said to travel from the internal organs to the surface of the body, ending at the fingers and toes. As such, it is common during treatment to use points that are located in what seem to be strange places, for example points on the hands to treat a headache, and are dependant on the Chinese Medicine diagnosis.
The needles used are very different from those used for injection; they are not hollow and so are much finer (usually .20 - .30mm thick), and are shaped at the tip in such a way as to part the skin and tissue rather than slice through it, as hypodermic needles do. As they do not remove any tissue and leave a far smaller wound, there is less chance of bleeding or infection (although these are always a possibility). Generally speaking, this means a far less painful experience, however it is dependent on a number of factors, such as the area being needled (for example fleshy areas are generally less painful than boney areas), the points used (certain points are known to have a stronger effect than others), the practitioners needling technique and treatment principle, and, in particular, the patient's pain threshold and overall constitution. The most important thing to remember is that YOU are in control of how painful the treatment is. If you find a treatment to be uncomfortable, tell your acupuncturist and he or she can use finer needles, withdraw them slightly to reduce the sensation, or otherwise alter the treatment to suit you. If you have any concerns, or have experienced symptoms such as nausea or fainting during treatment before, be sure to mention these things at the start of your appointment.
Acupuncture has far fewer side effects than some therapies, however side effects may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sweating and/or shaking; the worst of these are often referred to as 'needle shock' and may result from a sensitivity to changes in the way Qi and blood move through the body. Acupuncture may also encourage bowel movements or urination. Although extremely rare, it is possible for an acupuncture needle to pierce the lung which may result in a pneumothorax (a collapsed lung). This is a medical emergency but can have a gradual onset and so may not be seen until after you have returned home from the clinic; if you experience shortness of breath following a treatment where needles have been used over the back, chest or shoulders, please contact your practitioner or call 000 immediately.