Weird Acupuncture Side Effects That are Totally Normal

acupuncture needles on woodAcupuncture can make you feel all kinds of ways! Most people find it relaxing and beneficial. There are few to no negative acupuncture side effects. Occasionally, you might experience one of the following acupuncture side effects and be curious as to whether that is normal (hint hint, it is).

1. Feeling really sensitive during or after treatment

Acupuncture can stir up stuck emotions. Sometimes people cry or laugh for seemingly no reason during an acupuncture treatment. This type of emotional release is healing and nothing to be shy or embarrassed about. It’s also normal to feel extra emotionally sensitive or prone to tears several days after an acupuncture appointment. So often we ignore or distract ourselves from painful emotions, and acupuncture can bring some of that to the surface. This processing means you will carry a lighter emotional load, so I view it in a very positive light! Emotional shifts often signal physical shifts and can be a sign that symptoms will begin to resolve soon. This is one of the acupuncture side effects most common in my practice, where I specialize in stress, anxiety, and depression.

2. Feeling strange sensations in parts of your body where there were not needles during or after treatment

You might have an acupuncture needle in your foot and lower leg but you feel a tingling or aching sensation in your right shoulder. This is normal! People feel areas of their body light up with sensation that aren’t being worked on directly. This is due to the connection between acupuncture meridians. Meridians are energy channels that run all up and down your body and are interconnected via various points. These channels relate to your central nervous system and fascial channels from a Western perspective. It’s an enlightening experience for many to realize that the switches for their neck pain might be on the top of their hand, and you don’t need to tackle areas of pain directly to get lasting relief. Everything is intricately connected within the body, and the body is very smart. Acupuncture accesses many dimensions of healing on a cellular level.

3. Feeling spacey or fuzzy after acupuncture

This is one of my favorite acupuncture side effects. I jokingly call it being “acu-stoned”. For people who experience high stress or anxiety, this is often a welcome relief from the busy-mindedness of daily life. It can be a little uncomfortable if feeling spacey is unfamiliar to you. This feeling is only temporary and any fuzziness is quickly replaced by a sense of greater clarity for most people. Some people feel simultaneously energized and deeply relaxed after acupuncture.  If you have a lot of stuck energy, either emotionally (repressing or distracting from emotions) or physically (sedentary lifestyle), you might feel especially “out of it” after acupuncture. We’ve moved a lot of energy around, and your body is integrating that process. Take the rest of the day easy, and trust that your healing response has been activated and is working hard for your benefit.

4. Having to pee or have a bowel movement right after acupuncture

Similarly to the explanation above, stuck stuff becomes unstuck. One of the most powerful acupuncture side effects is the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is your “rest and digest” mode. Rest-and-digest means your body might be ready to excrete some waste. It’s common to need to use the bathroom after acupuncture, especially if we do points on the abdomen. You might find that you have a bit of a detox response where water and food go through you more quickly than usual for a few days. This is a positive cleansing reaction, and nothing to worry about.

5. Fatigue after acupuncture

brain scans showing acupuncture side effectsOf all the acupuncture side effects, this one is probably the least enjoyed by patients. Fatigue after acupuncture can last up to three days. Some people feel really wiped out post-acupuncture session. This shouldn’t happen every time and is more common in the beginning of your treatment series. If you have been burning the candle at both ends, acupuncture can reveal the true depth of your exhaustion as we rebalance your energy. Sometimes the energy we think we have is actually adrenaline and other stress hormones. Acupuncture lowers stress hormones (see the image to the right), which can leave you feeling your true energetic state–low, low, low. Don’t despair, acupuncture can help build you back up. However, you’re going to have to do some self-care too, like getting enough rest and eating a balanced diet. For severe cases of burn-out (a.k.a adrenal fatigue), herbs or supplements might be needed.

6. Twitchy muscles

At times I intentionally needle into trigger points, which can cause a twitch response in your muscle. This feels weird like you aren’t in control of your body. Involuntary muscle twitches can be achy, but shouldn’t be super painful. This is an effective technique for releasing muscle tension. Physical Therapists and Chiropractors have adopted this acupuncture technique and call it “Dry Needling“. It should always be performed by a licensed acupuncturist who is experienced and trained to use acupuncture needles to avoid causing damage by deep or aggressive needling. Acupuncturists tend to use a gentler touch when it comes to needling trigger points (at least I do!) and get equal if not better results than those who use a more aggressive approach. Sometimes less is more when it comes to pain and injury. With any treatment approach, consistency is key.

Want to improve your chances of getting great results from acupuncture?

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2018-07-20T21:38:31+00:00

About the Author:

Caitlin Gordon, M.S., L.Ac., C.M.F.P., is a functional medicine clinician, board-certified acupuncturist, and transformative health coach based in Boulder, Colorado. Owner of Amaluna Acupuncture & Wellness, Caitlin treats patients online and in-person. She specializes in treating stress, anxiety, and depression without pharmaceuticals.

39 Comments

  1. […] Deep intramuscular needling sites may be swabbed. For more information about this type of needling, see Dry Needling. […]

  2. Allen Emerson September 30, 2017 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Good day. My wife received acupuncture for heel pain about 2 days ago. Today she feels like one of the needles is still in her leg, looks okay but we don’t know this is common?

    • Caitlin Gordon October 1, 2017 at 12:11 am - Reply

      Hi Allen, that sensation is not uncommon. It is will pass within 1-3 days.

  3. Judith Noble October 25, 2017 at 3:37 am - Reply

    I had acupuncture on Monday for anxiety and help get my appetite back. I felt sick the day after and today I feel ok but a bit light headed is this ok x

    • Caitlin Gordon October 25, 2017 at 8:18 am - Reply

      Hi there, sometimes after acupuncture you can experience a detox reaction where things feel worse for a day or two before they feel better. Also, if you have any latent viruses, acupuncture can bring those out. Give it a few more sessions and see how you do! Most people feel much much better.

  4. Samar Shmassy November 14, 2017 at 5:21 am - Reply

    Thank you for the information, but i have a question. I just came home after my first acupuncture session regarding a severe back pain, and we i changed my clothes i found out that the therapist had forgotten a needle in my Leg!! It was all the way in when i pulled it out! What can this mistake cause me? Please give me Explanation!

    • Caitlin Gordon November 14, 2017 at 7:09 am - Reply

      Hi there, I’m sorry that happened as I’m sure it made you worry. Mistakes occasionally happen. Fortunately, acupuncture needles are so thin and flexible (and solid) that even if inserted all the way to the shaft in the leg, no damage will be done. Just place the needle in an old pill bottle or other solid container and dispose of it in the trash. Let your acupuncturist know what happened and request that they count needles going in and coming out at each appointment to prevent this problem in the future.

  5. Elif Muzaffer November 17, 2017 at 11:09 am - Reply

    I recently been having acupuncture for anxiety and panic attacks but I find for 2 days I can’t sleep or relax and feel my body is burning in certain parts from the inside and cold on the outside . Then when this passes I feel better. This week would be my 5th session I’m hoping I won’t experience that anymore as I’ve felt fanastic for 3 days now and even been able to go out on my own. Which I ain’t for over a month .

    • Caitlin Gordon November 19, 2017 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      Hi Elif, I’m so glad you’re getting relief with acupuncture. Interesting about the temperature fluctuations/sensations. Without knowing what your practitioner is doing I can’t advise you on why you’re having those reactions. In Eastern medicine, when we are expelling pathogens, latent viruses, or releasing excess “heat” you may notice strange sensations. My guess is that the increase in energy right after appointments will subside and things will begin to feel balanced as you continue with treatment.

      • Janet December 5, 2017 at 8:26 am - Reply

        I had burning reaction. First only present in treatment area – when I massaged area of treatment (arms). Felt like hot linnament had been applied. After a shower my whole body burning. Somewhat like the feeling of the dye before a MRI or like someone had rubbed A5-35 all over my body. I cannot say this was Dry Needle treatment but started at the same time. Today I am feeling better but noticed I still have burning in front of my thighs as I type here. I thought it was gone, but re-appearing as I sit here. No temperature.

        • Caitlin Gordon December 5, 2017 at 8:29 am - Reply

          Hi Janet, burning is not a normal or common reaction to acupuncture. You mentioned dry needling– was this performed by a licensed acupuncturist or another type of health provider?

        • Caitlin Gordon December 5, 2017 at 2:55 pm - Reply

          Janet, I hope the dry needling was from a licensed acupuncturist. If not, please beware that chiropractors, PTs, etc often are only required to take a weekend course to get certified to use acupuncture needles on patients. This leads to a higher rate of injury from aggressive technique paired with lack of training. Acupuncture performed by licensed acupuncturists is extremely safe.

  6. Pam November 27, 2017 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    I started having acupuncture treatments for my fibroids and after the 3 rd seesion i have been feeling light headed on and off its been already 2 weeks is this usual, i even had my eyes checked to see if my vision had changed but all was good.

    • Caitlin Gordon November 27, 2017 at 12:20 pm - Reply

      Hi Pam,
      Lightheadedness can be from many things but the most likely reasons are low blood pressure or low blood sugar. Acupunctures lowers both so it may be that you need to be more conscious of eating protein and fat with each meal and not going longer than 4 hours between meals. Eating breakfast within an hour of waking up helps too. If you know you have low blood pressure, adding sea salt to your food or water may help.

  7. Chress December 20, 2017 at 7:19 am - Reply

    I’m having tingling and pain that shoots up my hand where needles were inserted.This is 5 days post treatment. I also have a bruise on my left thumb,top of hand. Is this nerve damage?

    • Caitlin Gordon December 20, 2017 at 8:00 am - Reply

      Hi there,
      I’m sorry to hear this happened. Without seeing you I can’t say what happened to your thumb. Acupuncture needles can cause nerve irritation that often heals within 2-3 weeks, and this is a rare occurrence. Was the acupuncture performed by a licensed acupuncturist?

  8. Sarah December 22, 2017 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    Hello Janet
    I had my first treatment 3 days ago to help my relax as I haven’t been sleeping due to tinnitus. I had a terrible reaction and felt dreadful when I got home and didn’t sleep at all that night, feeling desperately anxious and unwell. I still feel very anxious and have developed joint pain and body aches. My therapist has been very concerned over the phone and doesn’t understand why I have reacted this way but feels that my anxiety is very strong and perhaps acupuncture isn’t the best form of treatment for me.

    I don’t want any more sessions, based on this experience. Can you please reassure me that these feelings will subside and hasn’t triggered something which is permanent.

    Thank you very much.

    • Caitlin Gordon December 23, 2017 at 11:20 am - Reply

      Hi,
      My name is Caitlin, not Janet. But I’m happy to answer your question. Acupuncture doesn’t have the ability to cause body aches and joint pain. My guess is that is either an anxiety reaction or coincidental timing. I’m sorry you felt stressed after acupuncture. That’s a very unusual reaction and certainly not permanent. Did you see a licensed acupuncturist?

  9. Kurt December 26, 2017 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Hi I had acupuncture 2 weeks ago and I have a electric type pain in my hand by my pinky, I can touch or rub the area where the needle was inserted, I put a wrap on it to avoid contact to the area, my pinky is slightly numb, I have seen this acupuncturist several times and this is the 1st time this happen, I’m concerned sine the pain can be very sharp if I brush against anything even in bed when I turn over. My acupuncturist is licensed.

    • Caitlin Gordon December 26, 2017 at 10:08 am - Reply

      Hi Kurt,
      Nerve irritation is a rare but possible side effect of inserting needles near nerves. Nerves typically repair/calm down on their own in 2-4 weeks. Hope this helps!

  10. Mara February 3, 2018 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Hi. Today I had acupuncture for elbow pain (tennis elbow). After a couple of minutes in the session my heart started palpitating really fast. After a while it went back to normal but I got dizzy, nauseous and very sweaty. I have had acupuncture treatments before, but this hadn’t happened before. Is this normal? Could it be that his practitioner is more aggressive in the treatment?

    • Caitlin Gordon February 3, 2018 at 2:47 pm - Reply

      Hi Mara,
      That type of reactions to needles is a vagal nerve response, it is the same response that causes people to faint when they get a shot or have their blood drawn. Making sure you eat within an hour of getting acupuncture, and are well hydrated will help. Gentler needle insertion with less strong sensation reduces this effect.

      • Mara February 4, 2018 at 10:32 am - Reply

        Thank you.

  11. Saul February 14, 2018 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Hi, I had acupuncture 5 days ago on my back and left thigh and now I feel tingling and cold foot on the left. Is this normal? Will it go away? I didn’t have tingling on my left foot before this. And now my foot feels really cold

    • Caitlin Gordon February 14, 2018 at 4:13 pm - Reply

      Hi Saul,
      Without knowing what type of practitioner you saw and what they did, I have no way of answering that question. The best person to talk to would be the health professional you saw.

  12. Dani March 5, 2018 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Hi, I started acupuncture last month to help with my anxiety, overall health. My first few sessions were great, I felt stuck energy move and even cried on the table. It was weird but therapeutic. During the most recent one, I felt waves of panic and my heart raced. Since then (5 days ago) I’ve had flu like symptoms, very low energy and my tongue looks different. I assume I’m just detoxing? I have suffered with panic disorder and anxiety throughout life. My body stays in constant fight or flight mode. Is this a normal reaction? I’m all about getting the stuck energy out so I’m hoping all of this discomfort is worth it. I just worry that I won’t get my energy back. I’ve basically been laid up for 5 day like I have the flu (but I don’t, no fever). Thanks!

    • Caitlin Gordon March 6, 2018 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Hi Dani,
      It is most likely that acupuncture stimulated an immune response to a latent virus in your system. It could also be a coincidence. You can have a “healing crisis” or detox reaction that feels flu-like with no fever or a viral infection without fever. You don’t need to worry that you won’t recover your energy, you will! Make sure your acupuncturist knows how you’re feeling so she can tailor your treatments accordingly.

  13. Ruksam March 15, 2018 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    Hi Caitlin

    My nephew had acupuncture session today for migraine. It was a 2 hour session. He experience dizziness and vomiting after the session. Is this normal? He is 16 years old.

    • Caitlin Gordon March 16, 2018 at 10:37 am - Reply

      Hi Ruksam,
      How much of the 2-hour appointment were acupuncture points in for? Dizziness and vomiting are common migraine symptoms so it’s hard to know what was the migraine and what was a reaction to acupuncture. In eastern medicine, we address the liver and gallbladder channels to treat migraine, and heavy stimulation on those channels can cause some dizziness and nausea. This is a purge reaction. I would recommend shorter sessions and less stimulation on points for future sessions.

  14. Bo April 4, 2018 at 11:30 am - Reply

    Hi Caitlin,

    I just had my 3rd acupuncture session for anxiety/panic attacks.

    I feel very relaxed after treatment but it hasn’t really helped with my insomnia.

    Should I expect this to get better with more sessions?

    Also i seem to feel a weird twitchy/vibration in my left arm.

    Is this common?

    Thanks

    • Caitlin Gordon April 4, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

      Hi Bo,
      The fact that you’re noticing a relief in anxiety means the sleep should soon follow. I estimate a month of treatment for every year you’ve experienced a problem. So, certainly give it some more time. Also, taking herbs, adjusting your sleeping habits, diet, etc will speed results. The tingling sensation in your arm is likely a coincidence, or you may just be feeling movement from more circulation to that area!

  15. Johnny Langille May 3, 2018 at 11:22 pm - Reply

    Hi dear. I had a treatment on my hip and lower back today. I went to work 8 hours later and the sensitive spots were worse. Quite painful. Is this possible?

    • Caitlin Gordon May 4, 2018 at 8:48 am - Reply

      Hi Johnny, pain may get worse for 24-48 hours before it gets better. When we increase circulation and create that healing inflammation, there can be some pain associated with it. Nerves coming back online can be uncomfortable initially as well. The best person to discuss this with would be your acupuncturist. Just make sure you’re seeing someone who did a 3-4 year masters program in acupuncture. Best luck!

  16. Maureen Nelson May 5, 2018 at 8:58 am - Reply

    Hi there! I am seeing a new acupuncturist now and have had 2 sessions with her. I have a sleep disorder similar to narcolepsy, horrible skin for a couple years now. Just run down and sick feeling. She told me my digestive system is extremely sluggish. The 1st session I ended up crying on the table for no reason (a little embarrassing lol) and the 2nd session I felt a huge wave of heat come up through my body into my head which actually woke me up from the nap when the needles were in. Do you know what that could be? I am feeling much better, she got of anxiety I didn’t even know I had! My skin is clearing up and I’m no so extremely sleepy every minute of the day. I’m so grateful for what you guys do and I’m excited to get my life back again being healthy! Thanks!

    • Caitlin Gordon May 6, 2018 at 5:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Maureen, both emotional releases and heat releases are just the movement of energy or qi. Many of the physiological mechanisms of acupuncture can cause heat releases as well– vasovagal nerve response, histamine reaction, etc. If you’re curious about this check out some of the other information on the website. There’s lots to learn. I’m so glad you’re seeing great results so far!

  17. Cris May 6, 2018 at 1:43 am - Reply

    Hi Caitlin, I am currently researching how acupuncture can really help improve health and particularly keeping skin in excellent shape, and assisting as an anti-ageing treatment. I wondered what sort of improvements to skin that you have seen in patients?
    Many thanks, Cris

  18. Sam June 15, 2018 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    Hi Caitlin, I had an acupuncture session for the first time for my foot pain. After the session I started to feel burning sensation all over my body for almost a week now. Is this a normal reaction?

    • Caitlin Gordon June 16, 2018 at 11:26 am - Reply

      Hi Sam,
      There’s nothing that acupuncture needles do that would cause a full body burning sensation. I’m sorry you’re having this experience. I recommend checking in with your acupuncturist and exploring possible causes as she will know your health history and factors that may be contributing.

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