Acupuncture for Fearful Patients

What keeps many people from coming to acupuncture initially is a fear of needles. This apprehension is understandable for people who think of  Western medical procedures such as blood draws and shots as their frame of reference for what a needle is and what it does. If you are troubled by the thought of someone ­– even a licensed professional – sticking needles into your body, please read ahead.

First of all, acupuncture needles are much thinner than any needle you would normally encounter at a Western medical office. Have you seen or heard of the butterfly needle that is used for greater comfort when blood is drawn at the doctor’s office? That ‘small’ needle would be horrifyingly thick for most acupuncture applications at 21-25 gauge. Needles that are made to transport a liquid substance (medicine or blood) into or out of the body must be made with a hole through the length of it. Because acupuncturists do not draw blood or administer injections during the normal course of treatment, we can use needles that are solid. If a needle is solid, it can be made as thin as possible because it does not have to be sturdy enough to allow fluids to flow through it. In contrast to the butterfly needle, my standard needle thickness is 42 gauge, but I use needles that range in size from 44 gauge (thinnest) to 28 gauge (thickest).  In the case of needle thickness sizing, the bigger the gauge number, the thinner the needle. Most of the needles I use are so thin that they have to be kept straight through the use of a needle tube to allow them to be pushed. Otherwise, the needles would just collapse against the skin like a piece of thread. The concept of needle should be either expanded or thrown out altogether when it comes to comparing the ones used in Western medical procedures versus the type used for acupuncture. They are both sterile for each patient and made from metal but other than that, these two types of needles do not have much in common with each other.

Another reason to mentally relax about needles is that many licensed acupuncturists have a wide variety of practical and effective tools and techniques other than needles to use for treatment. Sometimes we do not even use needles in a treatment at all; is this surprising? We can use herbs externally or in medicinal form. We can use massage and implements other than needles to bring about a positive change in the body. Acupuncture is a big category of holistic health care.  Talk to your acupuncturist about your concerns. I always take such concerns seriously as a licensed acupuncturist. My usual method involves distracting the fearful patient so that if I am using needles, the patient cannot even tell when I have taken a needle out of the sterile wrapper and started using it. In most cases, the patient will not even realize that points have been needled. This practice is meant to place the patient at ease. Because most of my needling style is light anyway, it is not difficult to help the patient relax while not bring a great deal of attention to the techniques being used. By the time you know what’s been happening, the treatment is over already. Give it a try; you will see for yourself. I could not make a claim like this if I was unable to back it up. Try it. 

Kerri Winston, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in Atlanta, Georgia's Buckhead area. If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture can help you or your loved ones, please call 404-949-0550 or send email to