You’re resting on the massage table. Your acupuncturist has about half of your needles inserted. Then bam! – out of nowhere, a sense of calm suddenly comes over you. Your eyelids grow heavy, followed by a general sense of relaxation filling your entire body as you slowly begin to doze off.
Many of our patients are surprised when they have this experience during their first acupuncture treatment. But rest assured, it’s a normal - and really awesome - thing that happens during many acupuncture sessions. Besides a deep sense of calm, there are a number of other weird (but cool!) experiences you may have from acupuncture.
1. Feeling “acu-buzzed”
Let’s chat more about the experience above, because this is, by far, our patients’ favorite “side effect” of acupuncture. It’s very common to begin to feel heavy and sleepy during your acupuncture session. The fuzzy-headedness and sense of calm is often a welcome relief for people who lead busy, stressful lives, and don’t often get to slow down. Many of our patients actually fall asleep, or drift in and out of sleep (what we like to call an “acu-nap”), wavering between sleep & relaxation and a greater sense of clarity. This is because, by needling certain areas, we are helping to induce a parasympathetic response within your nervous system (the “rest & digest” state), which allows the body to reach deeper levels of healing within. While it’s common to awaken from your treatment feeling totally rejuvenated and energized, some people feel extremely tired. So let’s talk about that next…
2. Extreme fatigue after acupuncture
Some people feel just-plain-wiped-out after acupuncture, and it’s usually the people who have been burning the candle at both ends. Don’t worry – this doesn’t happen every time. It’s usually more common right at the beginning, when you first begin to get acupuncture. Sometimes we are powering ourselves with pure adrenaline and stress hormones, and once we take a moment to finally stop, the depth of our exhaustion is finally revealed to us. Because acupuncture lowers our stress hormones, we begin to feel our true energy levels during or after acupuncture. Instead of feeling agitated by the need to rest after acupuncture, try and welcome the much-needed break (plan accordingly & try not to over-schedule yourself around your first treatment). You’ll feel like yourself again within the next day or so. And keep in mind that acupuncture and herbal medicine can help you to re-build your system and your energy levels over time, as well as help you to manage stress. We can also discuss with you other self-care options, to help you to stay more balanced in your day-to-day life.
3. Strange tingles or feeling “phantom needles”
This is a reaction that always amazes acupuncture patients. After we've inserted the needles, you may feel slight tingles in certain areas of your body. And sometimes, certain parts of the body light up with sensation, even if they’re not being worked on directly. This is due to the connections between the different meridians in Chinese medicine (which, arguably, follow the pathways of various nerves and fascia in the body) . For example, I was once needling an inflammation-reducing point in a patient’s foot when she suddenly felt a tingle in her elbow – the site of another common "heat-clearing" point. The association between the two meridians allowed for the noticeable movement of energy.
Other times - usually after the needles have been sitting for a little while - some patients mention that they feel a needle in an area where there isn’t actually a needle. I like to call these “phantom needles,” but really, they’re just areas along the meridians where energy is moving through blocks of stagnation, to free up the flow of qi (and, basically, increase circulation).
4. Twitching muscles
This might just be our patients’ least favorite sensation during acupuncture, but it still has its benefits. There are certain trigger points in the body that elicit an involuntary twitch of your muscles when stimulated. It can feel a little funny, and even slightly uncomfortable for a moment, but the stimulation and subsequent contractions help to release muscle tension and also increase circulation, welcoming fresh blood flow into particular areas, which helps to speed up recovery time and ease pain.
Many chiropractors and physical therapists use this technique and call it “dry needling.” It’s important that you find a licensed acupuncturist trained to use acupuncture needles, as aggressive needling or improper technique can lead to injury, or simply fail to be as effective. Acupuncturists will generally use a lighter touch and accompany any trigger points with complementary points, to increase their effectiveness. Read more about acupuncture vs. dry needing in our FAQs here.
5. Feeling emotional during or after acupuncture
We welcome all the tears in our Houston acupuncture practice, because we know just how therapeutic and detoxifying crying can be! And sometimes – you just can’t help it. Emotions are energy, and when we haven’t properly processed or released certain emotions, they can become stuck in our bodies. It’s common to ignore or distract ourselves from feeling what’s inside, however, energy work, like acupuncture or reiki, have a way of bringing things to the surface for healing. During acupuncture, as your muscles begin to relax and release, and energy begins to move and stir things up inside of you, some feel the need to spontaneously laugh...or cry. Others will begin to spill about the things that are making them angry or bitter. You should never feel embarrassed or shy about any of these responses. We welcome them (and trust us, it happens a lot!).
Some people feel okay during their sessions, but will begin to feel more sensitive or teary-eyes in the days following their session. We encourage you to offer yourself the gift of rest, stillness and alone time, to adequately process these feelings. As your emotional load becomes lighter, so often physical symptoms will also begin to improve.
6. Urgent restroom runs after treatment
Some patients find that they have to rush to the restroom after their session, because – as we said above – things gets stirred up during acupuncture! Others notice an increase in urination or bowel movements in the days following as the body works to detoxify itself. These are positive signs; just be sure to keep drinking plenty of water to support the cleansing process.
7. Increased bodily awareness & heightened sensitivity
Acupuncture can help you to become more mindful of your body. As we acupuncturists ask you detailed questions about what’s going on inside of you, or as we talk our way through the sensations you feel within your body during your session, your awareness begins to flow inward. Many of us stay so busy and distracted by our lives that we essentially cut ourselves off from what we’re feeling – this is the disconnection between the mind and body that is all-too-common in today’s culture. We're so in our own heads that we lose connection with what we're feeling in our bodies...until symptoms become so extreme that they are essentially screaming at us! Through acupuncture, you can begin to mend this disconnection. As you start to notice what’s happening inside your body more, and begin to make connections between external stimuli and your internal responses, you may find your sensitivities enhanced. You may find yourself overwhelmed by environments you once sought out, or you may not be able to eat the same high-processed foods you could once devour without fail.
While this can be alarming at first, know that this is a completely normal human experience – to feel. And as we begin to welcome and even cultivate this experience within ourselves, we ultimately become better at noticing and correcting imbalances in our bodies as they come up. Symptoms arise in our bodies as gentle nudges telling us something is wrong & needs to be addressed. When we learn to notice and then balance or treat our own symptoms, we are empowered, and we not only experience greater day-t0-day health and vitality, but we can avoid much more serious disease down the line.
Have you ever had these experiences during an acupuncture treatment? Feel free to share - we'd love to hear from you! If you've never tried acupuncture and are eager to see what all the buzz is all about, contact our Houston clinic or book online!