Acupuncture & fear of needles

One of the core components of acupuncture and its delivery is the use of needles to stimulate particular acupoints. These acupoints, or acupuncture points, are integral to the philosophies upon which acupuncture was based and developed. In this article we look at the use of needles in acupuncture, and more particularly how a fear of needles can affect a person looking to make use acupuncture treatment.

Why are needles used in acupuncture?

As mentioned briefly in the introduction to this article, needles are one of the key tools used by acupuncturists to deliver acupunctural therapies. This practice was initially developed in ancient China, and was originally devised as a method by which the healthy flow of a life energy called Qi could be restored.

Qi was thought to be essential to all healthy bodily functions, and according to traditional Chinese medicine, disruptions in the flow of QI are what is responsible for disease. Acupuncture through the use of needles, aims to correct blockages and obstacles restricting the flow of Qi, and thereby restore Qi flow and good health. Needles are inserted into specific parts of the body called acupoints, and these correspond to pathways carrying Qi called meridians.

Despite the fact that science thus far has disproven the existence of Qi, the use of needles in acupunctural practice is still broadly used, and these techniques have shown therapeutic promise in a number of different areas. Because of this, regardless of whether a practitioner holds to ancient Chinese beliefs regarding the workings of acupuncture or more modern interpretations of the traditional practice, needles remain an integral part of acupuncture.

Should I be afraid of acupuncture needles?

The safety of acupuncture and the needles involved has been extensively studied in recent years, and reports to date have shown that acupuncture and its needles are both extremely safe provided they are used by a trained professional following specific safety guidelines and procedures.

The main risks associated with needles in acupuncture are those of infection and injury, and events involving both or either of these adverse reactions to acupuncture needles have been almost exclusively associated with acupuncturists who have not received enough training or the necessary qualifications.

Acupuncture needles are kept sterile and are either of a disposable or re-usable variety, if a needle is one of the latter, then it will have to be re-sterilised before every use. Acupuncturists should also keep their practice clean to minimise the risk of infection, and use alcohol swabs on areas of skin that are about to be treated. These measures massively reduce the risk of infection, particularly in the Western world.

Carefully applying the right kind of needle (in terms of its dimensions) to the right part of the body is an important part of acupunctural training and keeping an individual safe from injury. This is why qualification and experience are such important parts of acupunctural treatments.

Dealing with a fear of acupuncture needles

A fear of needles doesn’t necessarily mean that acupuncture itself is completely out of your reach. There are alternative acupunctural techniques which can be applied to stimulate acupoints and achieve therapeutic ends, and there are also ways to address a fear of needles.

Most needle phobias stem from childhood experience. All of us here in the UK are given access to a routine vaccination programme that involves a series of injections over the first few years of life. Bad experiences during these injection appointments can give rise to lifelong fears. These experiences can also stem from other sources of course, like an unpleasant dental appointment that involved the injection of an anaesthetic for example. Ultimately the phobia itself arises from a mental association between needles and pain.

The main method of addressing this is to explain that acupuncture needles are specifically designed to be applied with no pain at all. If possible, experiencing this for yourself is probably the best way to find out that acupuncture needles are not like injections of any other kind. The needles themselves are extremely fine, stainless steel tools that are usually 4 times smaller than commonly used medical needles. This is a massive difference in thickness that makes acupuncture needles virtually painless.

We experience pain in the most superficial (outermost) layers of our skin, and many acupuncture needles nowadays come with a plastic guide tube that allows needles to be accurately inserted past these layers of skin so quickly that most people feel nothing at all.

If you are really struggling with your fear of needles but would still like acupunctural treatment, there are alternative methods of treatment you can pursue. These involve the bare bones of acupuncture in that the same acupoints are still targeted to stimulate healing, however the method of stimulation is what varies. The following are alternative acupunctural techniques that you can still make use of despite your fear of needles:

-Acupressure: involves stimulating acupoints with fingers, thumbs, and elbows.

-Electroacupuncture: involves the use of small and perfectly safe electrical currents to stimulate acupoints.

-Moxibustion: a herb known as moxa is compacted and burned near acupuncture points to stimulate acupoints.

-Cupping: Pressure is applied through a cup to also stimulate acupoints.

These alternative techniques can be quite helpful if pursued and will be offered by many acupuncturists. If you have any questions about a particular technique, then there are many sources of information available through the internet, or alternatively, you can speak to a trained acupuncturist about the technique you are interested in.

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