One of the first things people discover when they try acupuncture is that there is usually very little pain involved. Instead, many patients experience a variety of interesting, nonpainful sensations in response to the needles. The description I hear most often from new patients is it simply feels “good but strange.” In acupuncture, we call this reaction to the needles “the arrival of Qi,” or “De Qi” in Chinese, and it plays a central role in the healing power of acupuncture.
De Qi can be felt by the patient as a variety of sensations, such as a sense of warmth around the point, a feeling of local pressure, movement, or tingling away from the point, or occasionally a small electric shock. Your acupuncturist can also feel the arrival of Qi through the acupuncture needle: it can seem like the patient’s body is “gripping” the needle and alerts the practitioner that the point has become active and the patient’s body is responding. It is for this reason that De Qi is so important. Acupuncture practitioners must make sure not only to locate each point correctly, but also to verify that each point in use is activated properly and performing its desired function.
Sometimes we will lightly manipulate a needle after insertion until we are certain that we can feel the arrival of Qi. A single point, say Stomach 36, Zu San Li, may feel different for each patient during this activation, but a trained acupuncturist recognizes when De Qi comes. Once the energy is there, an acupuncturist can direct the treatment with different techniques. Sometimes we will try to disperse pain or tension from a point or area. Other times we may try to create a sense of warmth that seems to spread from the point. But the most important step is to make sure the acupuncture point is awake and receptive.
Not every acupuncture point will present noticeable De Qi sensations — this is especially true for thin areas of the body, such as the ears. In times when you do notice strong, nonpainful sensations, however, just remember that means the acupuncture is working well!
[written by Charles]