The main question: Does it hurt?!
The good news: generally no.
The bad news: occasionally yes. The needle insertion itself might not be felt at all, or might be momentarily uncomfortable, like the first pinch of a mosquito bite. The strength of your reaction will be similar to your body and mind’s reaction to external stimuli.
But… read on for a fuller description.
What to expect in a normal treatment
At the first consultation, you will be asked to give your current state of wellbeing and to present whatever your reason is for seeking treatment. The acupuncturist will ask some probing questions to gain a deeper understanding of your experience of your reason for treatment and its underlying mechanisms. Further to this, he will ask a series of general questions (diet, lifestyle, sleep patterns, bodily systems, medical history etc.) to assess the working environment of your body and from there establish the cause of and so treatment approach to your current state of being.
He will further ask to look at your tongue and take the pulses at both wrists, as well as observing at the complexion, the quality of the voice, the general body shape/type, etc, and will perform any other particular physical assessments relevant to your condition. From this, he will ultimately make a working TCM diagnosis.
At this point, if there is sufficient time remaining in the first appointment, you will be asked to expose whatever body parts to which will be required access for the treatment (almost certainly lower arms and legs, sometimes back, abdomen etc. It is advisable to wear loose fitting clothing). The acupuncturist will leave to wash his hands, return and insert normally 8-15 needles.
Afterwards, as the acupuncturist manipulates the needles to the right depth and stimulates them to make sure the body has noticed, you may feel deeper sensations, which can range from very mild to strong, and may include but are not limited to sensations of throbbing, pulling, heat, cold, electrical discharge, spreading, itching… These are all signs that the needle is doing its job and are generally perceived as good, but do keep the acupuncturist informed – it should generally not be intolerably uncomfortable, or remain in one state for more than a few minutes – so he can adjust the needle if required.
Cupping may be performed at any point during the treatment, as may be moxibustion. The needles will remain in the body from anywhere between 15 to 40 minutes, after which point they will be removed, disposed of and you will be free to dress.
There may be another few short minutes of discussion, particularly in relation to dietary and lifestyle advice if necessary, and the session will draw to a close.