7 Most Common Acupuncture Side Effects

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

For those unfamiliar with acupuncture, or with limited experience, there are some side effects that everyone should be aware of. This is why it is always good to do your research and make sure you have all the information before taking the plunge. Below is a list of the most common side effects of having acupuncture treatments, and some of them might surprise you.

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1. An Overall Feeling of Wellbeing

By far one of the most common things heard by acupuncturists from their patients is that they feel an overwhelming sense of wellbeing. I believe the reason lies within the very foundation upon which Chinese medicine in built. Because Chinese medicine is a holistic system, when you come in for an acupuncture treatment, it is not just the ailment that is being treated, it is the entire person on every level. This is in contrast to the Western model which functions in more of a reductionistic way, honing in on the part of the body that is seen to be malfunctioning and treating it, often in isolation. In Chinese medicine, the entire body is seen to function as a whole and no one part can be separated from the others, it is one, everything acting synergistically. This is why people often feel a euphoric sense of calm, peace and wellbeing when receiving acupuncture treatment, as the entire being is being healed and rebalanced which is what the body really needs. The feeling of wellbeing is your body’s way of saying thank you.

2. Improved Sleep

Sleep is something that most of us don’t get nearly enough of. I have seen this over and over again in practice, we certainly seem to be a sleep deprived culture. Everyone is under pressure to get a lot done and there never seems to be enough time. Sleep, unfortunately, is the thing that often suffers. Thankfully, one of the wonderful things about acupuncture (and there are many) is that it is incredibly relaxing to the body and benefits the nervous system allowing us to have better quality sleep.

3. Feeling More Relaxed

Acupuncture is incredibly relaxing to the body. For anyone who has never had acupuncture before this may seem a strange statement. How, you may ask, could the body relax when it is full of needles? But, it is true. The tiny acupuncture needles release endorphins that cause a pleasant feeling of euphoria and are extremely beneficial to the nervous system causing the body to feel relaxed. Many people become so relaxed on the table, that they pass out cold. This is extra nice because it helps with number two – getting a bit of a nap is an added bonus.

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4. Other Negative Symptoms Disappearing

The intake process is involved and great care is taken to collect both a medical history and other relevant information about the patient’s health on every level. During this process there is usually a chief complaint which is the reason that the person has come to see you. After the information is collected, a diagnosis is formulated and a treatment plan put together. As treatment begins, something wonderful happens… the patient will say things like, “you know I was coming to you for my terrible migraines, but I had been having this awful constipation for years. I forgot to mention it to you, but it has completely cleared up.” It is very common for symptoms that are perhaps not the reason you sought treatment to resolve themselves, and the reason goes back to number one. Because Chinese medicine is based on a holistic system, it is not treating symptoms, it is treating the entire human being, therefore, the whole body is being balanced out meaning that symptoms that you may have been struggling with, will disappear.

5. Heightened Senses & Awareness

Acupuncture has the ability to heighten the senses and bring greater awareness to the patient. There are many people out there who are not entirely connected to their bodies and have a difficult time describing how they feel. Acupuncture helps them to reconnect with their bodies as they learn to feel the qi moving around inside them. There are many different sensations that can be felt while having acupuncture, and most are the movements of qi inside the body. For those who are more embodied, people who practice yoga, martial arts and athletes for example, this awareness has been developed and acupuncture can serve to heighten that awareness. For those who are not as connected to their bodies, acupuncture can be an introduction to their bodies and create an awareness that will help them maintain balance and health in the future.

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6. Increased Energy

Many people come to have acupuncture for various kinds of stagnation. Stagnation is a common term in Chinese medicine and basically means a blockage of some kind in the body. It can be a blockage of blood, or of qi (the body’s vital energy). Stagnation is one of the main causes of pain in TCM, and acupuncture and herbs are excellent for moving stagnations. One of the side effects of moving blockages in the body is that it frees up all the energy that has been pooling around the blockage, and people will often find that their energy increases once the stagnation starts breaking up and things are flowing freely again. This is especially true of people experiencing pain which is very exhausting to the body. Once the stagnation, which is the cause of the pain, is moved, the body is no longer being drained and the energy stores are freed up for more constructive and pleasant bodily processes.

7. Clear Thinking and Better Concentration

A very nice side effect of acupuncture treatments is that people often report that they are able to think more clearly and are better able to concentrate. In this age of multitasking, long hours and lack of sleep we can all use all the help we can get. Acupuncture helps us to rebalance. When there is an imbalance in the body, our qi is disrupted. Often times, due to hectic schedules, improper nutrition and lack of sleep, we simply do not have enough qi to provide us with the energy we need, and the result often manifests in decreased cognitive abilities like dull thinking, forgetfulness and difficulty remembering. Because acupuncture treatments are rebalancing the entire body, it ensures that all the organs are functioning properly, making all the qi we need so we have plenty to think clearly, concentrate and remember. I think the term side effects has been sullied by the media. We are bombarded on a daily basis with commercials from drug companies that sing the praises of some new drug while quietly listing a myriad of side effects that are often worse that the symptom you are taking the drug for. This is what I think many people associate with the term side effects. But, in this case, I present to you a list of side effects which do not take away from the overall pleasantness of an acupuncture treatment, but enhance them exponentially.

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