Pain after acupuncture


Pain is a rare side effect of acupuncture. Acupuncture is primarily used to treat a specific pain. However, as a result of the treatment itself, pain can arise, which is divided into primary and secondary pain. The secondary pain has not been precisely clarified and an organic cause cannot be found medically. They can appear in the area to be treated in the sense of initial deterioration, but also in other areas of the body and organs as a reaction to acupuncture. Primary pain, on the other hand, occurs as a direct reaction of the stung tissue. Every person reacts differently to the setting of the needles, which subjectively describes more or less pain.

Read more about this under: Forms of acupuncture

Causes of Pain After Acupuncture

Specific causes of pain as a primary reaction to the needles stuck can vary. In the vast majority of cases, there is only slight irritation and minimal damage to the local tissue. Pricking can damage small structures such as blood vessels, nerves and muscles under the skin. The very thin needles can irritate the fragile structures of the subcutaneous tissue, but usually do not cause long-term damage. Injuries to the blood vessels can lead to small hemorrhages and bruises, to nerve injuries to increased pain or a shooting, electrifying sensation, and to muscle irritation to tension or sore muscles. The number of needles and the type of sticking also have an influence on the local pain. The treatment may have to be adapted for very sensitive people. In these cases it is also possible to switch to ear acupuncture. A local complication that is very rare nowadays is infection. In unsanitary conditions, pathogens can get under the skin via the acupuncture needle and cause inflammation. In modern medical practices or professional naturopaths, however, the needles used are usually sterile.

Also read: Contraindications to acupuncture

Secondary pain can occur less frequently. Foreign body regions and organs can cause pain in direct temporal connection with the acupuncture session. There does not always have to be a causal connection to the complaints, but such pain can arise as a reaction to the acupuncture stimuli. If the pain affects the already painful organ area, which was the aim of the treatment, it can also be referred to as an initial deterioration.

Why can pain get worse after acupuncture?

The pain in the area to be treated may initially get worse shortly after the acupuncture treatment. This seems paradoxical, but can be observed in many alternative medical treatment methods. This is referred to as a so-called "initial aggravation", which in many cases seems necessary before the actual pain healing can begin. Behind this is an irritation of the affected area before the body's self-healing powers take effect and fight the actual cause. The mental focus of the original pain after acupuncture also plays a role. Focusing on the pain brings it to the fore and makes it appear stronger before acupuncture can work. These two phases of healing are sometimes referred to as "initial effect" and "after-effect". The aim of acupuncture is of course to keep the painful initial effect as low as possible. The local pain that can occur after the sting is also summarized under the term initial effect.

Injection site pain

The needles that are pierced into the skin during acupuncture are very thin and are usually applied carefully so that no tissue structures are damaged. The subcutaneous tissue contains small nerves, blood vessels, small skin muscles and various other structures that can theoretically be damaged by a needle stick. Even if there is a small local irritation, it should subside after a few days. Sustainable damage in the area of ​​the puncture is very unlikely. Infections at the puncture site can occur less frequently, especially in unofficial and untrained acupuncturists. The bite brings small bacteria or viruses under the skin and can cause pain, redness, and swelling.

Acupuncture pain during pregnancy

Acupuncture during pregnancy can be carried out safely, but with caution. Acupuncture primarily stimulates the body's self-healing powers and does not release any active substance into the circulation for the entire body, which is why the growing child is not threatened. In very rare cases, particularly sensitive patients can experience physical stress with panic as a reaction to the stimulus. If there is an extreme fear of acupuncture and small needles, acupuncture should be avoided if possible, especially during pregnancy. In the worst case, the stimulus can cause cramps or even premature labor. However, since these complications are extremely rare, acupuncture during pregnancy can usually be performed without hesitation. It is a popular pain therapy measure, especially when preparing for birth.

Are you pregnant and considering acupuncture? You can find more information about this here: Acupuncture in Pregnancy.

Pain after prenatal acupuncture

Many pregnant women receive acupuncture treatment before giving birth to reduce the pain and discomfort of the birth process. The self-healing powers of the body should concentrate on the birth process beforehand in order to minimize the pain. However, there is no guarantee of pain relief. Here, too, the typical side effects of acupuncture can occur, which in rare cases lead to pain or even to initial deterioration.

Are you pregnant and considering acupuncture before giving birth? Read more about it here: Acupuncture and obstetrics.

Concomitant symptoms

Acupuncture side effects are very rare. They can also be reduced by an experienced acupuncturist. The physical stimulus of the stinging, on the other hand, can cause some patients to feel dizzy and in extreme cases even to faint. In addition to pain, the local stimulus can also manifest itself in reddening and swelling. In some cases, the affected area may feel overheated. If smaller blood vessels are injured, minimal bleeding can occur, which manifests itself as a small bluish dot or bruise.

Duration of pain after acupuncture

The duration of the pain and the overall side effects of acupuncture are short. The local complaints subside within about 3 days. Even a stubborn bruise caused by acupuncture usually does not last longer than 5 days. The secondary pain of the initial worsening depends on the original symptoms. In severe chronic pain, the initial worsening can persist for a few days until acupuncture has the desired effect. If the symptoms are only slight, however, no severe initial deterioration is to be expected.


As a rule, the pain occurs during or shortly after the acupuncture session. Small local stimuli can have many causes. However, if an acupuncture session was done immediately, this can be seen as the cause. A simple local examination confirms this assumption in most cases. Even if a circulatory problem occurs during the session, it is very likely to be related to acupuncture.


The side effects of acupuncture, which are minor in the majority of cases, rarely have to be treated. Small local stimuli, bruises or minimal muscle soreness under the skin can be healed by the body itself. Should it actually come to a circulatory problem with fainting, the needles must be withdrawn, which usually results in immediate improvement. The primary and secondary pain after acupuncture should usually go away after a few days. Otherwise, a closer examination of the symptoms must be carried out.