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Pain after receiving acupuncture - is it normal?

Q:  Because it seems that nothings really helped me relieve my sciatica pain caused by a very small disc herniation (L5- S1) I had already 2 acupuncture session. After the  first, i was feeling good but during the second on when the doctor inserted a needle down the buttocks I felt an enormous pain. I asked him if he just hit the nerve but he is said it's "the energy flowing". Is it normal to be that painful when the energy is flowing?

A:  'Normal' is not quite how we would describe what has happened to you, but certainly a reaction like this is within the range of possibilities. There are a great many unknowns, however, which means that we can't be precise. For example, when you say 'doctor' we're not sure whether you mean a conventional medical doctor, a Chinese practitioner who uses the title (as many do) or a traditional acupuncturist amongst our members (who do not use the title doctor unless they are also conventional doctors).

The reason we say this is that there are different styles of acupuncture. Conventional medics use a much more direct style of needling with thicker gauge needles, deeper insertions and often aim for what are called trigger points. When these are needled the sensation can be quite powerful. Many practitioners trained in China use a much more vigorous needle technique than European trained practitioners. The needle is often manipulated quite powerfully to generate a dull aching sensation called 'deqi' which for many Chinese practitioners is an absolute requirement for good treatment. Many western trained practitioners also do the same, but there is a wide range, with many using a relatively light technique. On occasion, however, the needle can cause a channel to become very 'live', and this can produce a sensation which may be painful.

What we can't judge from your account is how long the sensation lasted. If it was short-lived it is much more likely to have been an energetic reaction. This can last for a few hours, but after the initial burst of activity it tends to subside over time. If there is a very sudden and painful reaction which goes away quite quickly, then you cannot rule out the possibility that the practitioner has actually hit a nerve, of which there are many in that area.

The bottom line, though, is that it hurt, and most practitioner can adjust what they do to reduce the chances of it happening again. This can be achieved by needling less depeply, less vigorously, or even somewhere else altogether - the interconnections make this possible. There is no need to worry about talking to the practitioner about it. If they are reputable, they will listen. If they do not respond well to your questions, there are hundreds of practitioners out there!


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