What Does TCM Feel Like?

If you’ve read the other articles on this website (or have been doing a lot of research on your own), you probably have a good idea of what Traditional Chinese Medicine is and who practices it. But unless you’ve personally experienced each method, you may only have a faint idea of what it feels like.

So, let’s go treatment by treatment and discuss in detail what you should (and shouldn’t) be experiencing in terms of sensation. After all, if you don’t know what it should feel like, how can you be sure it is being done correctly?


This comes first because it is by far one of the most commonly recognized TCM treatments. To look at it, however, it actually looks pretty painful! In reality, however, it is a relatively relaxing experience. Now, some may tell you it is thoroughly painless, but the truth is that most people experience at least a small twinge or prick when they needle is inserted into the skin. You may experience this again when they are being removed, but to a lesser degree. It can be a little disconcerting, especially if it is your first acupuncture experience, but just try to relax. If you feel any sharp pains or deep discomfort at any time, tell your TCM practitioner immediately as this should not be happening.

On a side note, you may see some pricks of blood after your treatment. This is normal, but a lot of blood is not. If it is more than just a drop, consult with your practitioner. And this goes for all TCM treatments, but if your practitioner ignores your concerns or worse, brushes them aside and doesn’t take you seriously, seek a second opinion.


Like other TCM treatments, cupping or “vacuum therapy” can feel a little uncomfortable. As the match burns beneath the cup, you may feel heat and a slight burning sensation (don’t worry though; it isn’t your skin that’s burning). As a seal forms at the cup’s base, you may also feel your skin stretching and tightening. At no point however should it be overly uncomfortable or painful. If you are feeling a lot of pain or having trouble tolerating it, tell your practitioner right away. Now, if you are undergoing “wet cupping” and are having a small amount of blood withdrawn during the process, you should feel no more than a typical prick as your practitioner uses a needle to tap different areas. Following treatment you will have circular marks on your skin, but these will fade eventually along with any soreness you may feel. Within a few days, you should feel better than you did before your session. As with other TCM treatments, this positive change should become more apparent after several sessions.

Gua Sha

This treatment can be a little more painful than others, as it is essentially causing direct abrasion to your skin. However, the pain you feel during treatment should not be intense or intolerable in any way (so do speak up if it gets to be too much). After your treatment session, you will feel some soreness if you’re like most people, especiall if you’re still fairly new to treatment. This soreness may last between three and ten days as your red spots and light bruises take the time to heal.


This one can be alarming to people because it involves burning herbs, but in reality the experience is a lot like acupuncture. Needles are lightly inserted into special points on the skin, which should cause nothing more than a fleeting prick of pain or twinge. Many people don’t even feel the needle going in at all. As the moxa pieces are wrapped around the end of the needles and ignited, you may feel little spots of heat. If you feel any sharp pains or serious discomfort, tell your TCM practitioner immediately. While you may feel heat, you should also not feel any painful burning.

Tui na

This is a very relaxing treatment. It is a type of massage that will usually just result in sensations of pressure. The intensity of it will vary depending on the amount of pressure your TCM practitioner is using during your session, but while it might make you a bit sore at times it should not result in actual pain.

It is important to know what TCM treatments feel like— or rather, what they should feel like— so you can make sure that you are receiving proper care and treatment. After all, an inexperienced or careless TCM practitioner could hurt you without you even knowing something is wrong! So, if you’re receiving treatment and it doesn’t feel like it is described here, be sure to voice your concerns. It’s your health and your body, and you deserve everything TCM has to offer.