Acupuncture is painful? This is probably the number one reason why most people may be hesitating to have an acupuncture treatment. The matter of fact is to some very sensitive people, it can be indeed sensitive and uncomfortable. However, the majority of people I see are quite comfortable with acupuncture.
To bust this myth, I would like to first clarify the kinds of sensations that can be triggered with an acupuncture needle (needle sensations). We are capable of feeling different sensations in the body. Pain is just one of them. However, pain is not what we should be looking for in an acupuncture treatment. The ideal needle sensations would be either soreness, numbness, distention, heaviness, muscle tightening, radiation or twitching on the meridian channels. Often it is a combination of the above sensations. Sharp pain or electric shock on the other hand could also stimulate the body, though they are not ideal. Usually the stronger sensation the better result. However, we don't want the sensation to be too strong that the patient couldn't handle. I usually make the sensation from low to medium strong to ensure effectiveness and comfort for the patient. To be honest, I enjoy needling on myself as most of the needle sensations are pleasant to me.
There are two ways of how acupuncture is carried out in the world. In North America, most acupuncturist use thin size needles to avoid strong needle sensations. This indeed makes the patients feel more comfortable and therefore would feel encouraged to come back. There are some placebo effects in this kind of treatments. However, for a lot more other conditions, especially pain, if the needle sensation is absent or too light, the effect will also be compromised. Therefore we hear the old saying: no pain no gain.
In my experience, a lot of pain can be significantly improved in one treatment. Of course, I am not limited to acupuncture as I also use cupping, acupressure, and show patients some helpful exercises. I help a few patients with their chronic shoulder pain or rib pain in just one treatment. One of them has chronic shoulder pain for 20 years. Though results vary from case to case.