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14 September, 2004

Acupuncture reassurance

I've had no reason to mention it here, but for the past few months I've been experiencing pain in my shoulder, probably work-related (working at a PC for 8½-10 hours per day, five days per week isn't healthy).  This morning I saw a physiotherapist, who gave me acupuncture, which is the point of this posting (ignore that accidental pun; I'm trying to).

I don't like needles.  Last year I underwent surgery to insert a metal plate into my hand, but was more uncomfortable about the thought of the anaesthetic needle than the operation itself.  Hence, I was momentarily concerned about the idea of acupuncture, until the physiotherapist explained a few facts.

Self-evidently, a hypodermic syringe is hollow, in order to inject or remove fluid from the body. An acupuncture needle is solid and narrower, so penetrates the skin easier, so is felt less.

The sensation of a needle penetrating the skin is felt at or very near the surface, so a properly, i.e. quickly, inserted needle will barely be noticed.

If a needle intercepts a blood vessel, a sharp pain is experienced. Since injections aim for veins, by definition they're likely to hurt. If a needle is inserted into healthy, relaxed muscle, there is no sharp pain; none - I can testify that that's true. The physiotherapist accidentally caught a blood vessel once, and it felt like a standard injection, but the other ~10 insertions were entirely painless.

Insertion of a needle into damaged, tense muscle meets greater resistance, so there may be pain, but analogous to a bruise, not an injection. Since muscular problems were the reason for my visit, I did experience that pain, and as I was warned, it's still there now, four hours later, but to restate, it's a diffuse ache, and I literally couldn't feel the insertion of the individual needles after the first couple.

If anyone else had been deterred by the idea of multiple 'injections', which had indeed been my preconception, don't be.

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