Latest posts are at the bottom of this page.
Use the filter buttons above to help find answers - click on the boxes

Recent answers

Q:  I have bad sciatica had 3 visits to a chiropractor and started to feel a bit better  yesterday.  I was given acupuncture in the bottom of my spine.  The needles caused me a lot of pain when inserted and since then I am in so much pain feeling  like raw nerves -  is this normal ?

A:  We would hesitate to use the word 'normal' in circumstances like this but it can happen.

 There are two possibilities. First is that the treatment has caused an exacerbation of the original problem. This can happen with treatments for back, neck and sciatica types of pain, and if this is the case then the feeling will subside within 48 hours, or by the time you read this reply. Many health professionals like us, osteopaths and chiropractors do warn people that this can happen, and take it as a good sign that the treatment has 'engaged'. 

 The reaction is not usually that severe, however, normally the existing problem plus a bit more, so we suspect that the problem may well have been caused by the treatment. Chiropractors are not within the mainstream of acupuncture practice within the UK, and many learn small amounts of acupuncture for treating specific problems within their scope of practice. This can mean that there use of needles is slightly more hard-hitting than, say, a traditional acupuncturist who is trying to move energy. Trying to get a neuro-physiological effect can sometimes mean using thicker needles and deeper insertions, and with that the risk of a bruise or a slight nerve impingement increases considerably. This does not usually mean permanent damage; even when people do suffer treatment injuries very few indeed cause more than a short lived problem. It does mean, though, that there can be a very different kind of post treatment pain, often sharp and severe.

 The best thing to do is to discuss the problem with the person who gave you the treatment to see if they can provide any illumination about where they were needling, how deeply and with how much manipulation, to get a sense of what damage might have been caused and how quickly it will resolve. If it carries on for a week then it would be advisable to arrange a GP appointment for the doctor to have a look at what is going on, and possibly prescribe some pain relief.

 The chances are that the reaction is the former. We certainly hope so, and this will mean that it has resolved by the time you read this. If it hasn't, then it would warrant further investigation

Q:  I have colitis, hayfever and dust allergies, psoriasis and recently some new pain and swelling in my thumb and toes. I am aware that auto immune diseases can cluster in this way in individuals and now with the new symptoms am wondering if acupuncture could help me and if there is an NHS practitioner in my area of Gloucestershire? 

A:  You are right to think that the approach inherent in traditional Chinese medicine may offer possibilities for the treatment of some of the problems which you have. We don't want to quote great numbers of studies at you because you have clearly done your research, but if you want further details then you need look no further than our website where you will find under the 'research' tab a further button for fact sheets which cover many of the problems which you mention. Indeed, if you use the 'site search' facility on the home page you will find dozens of answers which we have given over the years about many of the problems which you have.

 The great strength of Chinese medicine is that the practitioner is trying to make sense of all aspects of a person's health and well-being by using a theoretical framework which draws on 2500 years of understanding of the whole body, mind and spirit as an energy system. This means that interconnections are very naturally a part of this understanding, whereas conventional medicine tends to address each aspect separately and in isolation. This is often not quite so pronounced as some of our colleagues argue; we know of many GPs who are proud of their genuine holistic approach to health. The system itself, however, does not lend itself to this kind of approach.

 We think, however, that you may find it very difficult to identify any traditional acupuncture provision in your area. What acupuncture treatment there is can most often be provided by doctors and physios within their normal scope of practice, and usually only on conditions for which there is a substantial and persuasive evidence base in western terms. This does not extend to many of the problems you have.

 On the assumption that you want to find treatment free at the point of delivery, it might well be worth asking a BAcC member local to you (whom you can find using the postcode search facility on our home page) if they are aware of anything local to you in NHS provision. We know of one member who was heavily involved in NHS work but we think it may have been in another field of medicine. If this doesn't turn anyone up you may well be pointed to someone who is prepared to treat you at highly reduced fees. Many of our members are as concerned with helping people than making a mint, and are usually prepared to help people find what they need.

 There is also a growing number of multibed clinics trying to provide acupuncture at reduced rates for work in group settings. A list of these can be found at this website, and this may offer possibilities.

Q: One of my friends had an acupuncture treatment to gain height. He is now worried whether it'll effect his life after marriage as he is still 25. And wants to know what are the most serious side effects of acupuncture.

A:  We're not quite sure what exactly your friend is worried about, but also a little uncertain about the treatment he had. Although we know of several clinics, mainly in India, where treatment is offered to help people gain height this is not something which any of us would tend to accept as a primary focus of treatment. As practitioners of Chinese medicine our principal focus is the treatment of the person, not the condition, and if this meant correcting functional disturbances from a Chinese perspective which had the corollary of making a conventional function change, then it is possible that someone might gain height as a consequence. One immediately thinks of the various growth hormones and the fact that acupuncture treatment might have the effect of stimulating a general improvement in their levels.

 There are a number of experiments on rats like this one

 which offer a view that treatment may have this effect, but no studies on humans from which it would be possible to draw conclusions.

 What we are pretty sure of, though, is that this will have no residual effect after his marriage. Where he is now is where he will stay unless his constitution is affected by age and lifestyle. We are not aware of any outcomes from treatment which create long-term lurking problems which emerge at a later stage. 

 As far as safety is concerned we helped to put together a safety website some while ago and this page

 refers you to several studies which show the kinds of adverse events which have been reported in the UK and western Europe. You will see from the figures that adverse events are rare and usually very mild and transient. The World Health Organisation study here:

 provides details of much nastier outcomes which our critics are often happy to trot out, but the reality is that these only occur when people lack proper training and equipment, and simply reflect that any medical treatment, complementary or conventional, where someone is not properly trained will lead to poor outcomes. In the UK the safety record is far better than nearly all forms of conventional medical treatment.


Q:  I think I may have nerve damage in my hand from having acupuncture 2 weeks ago. My practitioner needled two points on the outer side of my hand - my wrist and under my little finger. A day or so later I noticed that my hand felt painful and I started to get shooting pains running up the side of my hand. It is painful when it is rested, and is painful when I touch it. Also certain positions that I put my hand in, make the pain much worse. There is also numbness. I'm not able to pick up anything, or even do something simple such as tie my hair back as the pain shooting down my hand is so intense. Obviously I am very concerned about permanent nerve damage and I am not sure what I can do. Can permanent nerve damage happen?

A:  Permanent nerve damage could, in theory, happen, but it is a very rare outcome from treatment. We have always carefully monitored adverse event data from across the world, and this does not appear at all in most cumulative studies.

 In fact, in order for there to be nerve damage you would invariably have felt some extremely unmistakable pain as the needle hit the nerve. There is no room for doubt, as this expert can attest from a rather interesting attack on his median nerve back in the 1980s. What is more likely to have happened is that there has been some deep bruising where the needles have been inserted which has formed small but solid clots near to where nerves and blood vessels pass. The way that you describe the way that the problems occur sounds very much like the sorts of things you would expect - pain and numbness on specific movements aggravating a persistent background pain. The impingement which this has caused and continues to cause will generate pain and numbness of the kind you describe for a short while.

 How long this short while may be is difficult to determine. We would expect there to be a week or two, but in your case this has already passed. If the problems continue at their current level of intensity and annoyance for another fortnight then it would be wise to visit your doctor for an assessment. If he or she performs some fairly routine and simple tests they can determine whether you might need a referral to a neurologist.

 We suspect, however, that the problem will resolve before that becomes necessary.

A:  As far as we are aware there are no contraindications for the use of acupuncture, either traditional or auricular, with patients who have cardiomyopathy. In fact, if you undertake internet searches you will find a number of papers, most written in Chinese and published in China, which suggest that acupuncture treatment can be used to good effect in the treatment of some aspects of cardiomyopathy. The studies we found tend to use auricular acupuncture.

The normal safety standards which apply to the use of auricular acupuncture should be perfectly adequate for the protection of the patient with this condition, and the only slight concern we have raised in our members' Guide to Safe Practice is the use of retained needles when a patient has a history of heart valve problems. The section reads:

Patients who have damaged heart valves (eg after rheumatic fever) or artificial valves are at a higher risk of developing endocarditis. Retained needles, a category which includes ear needles, dermal needles and press studs which can be left in place for days, are contraindicated for these patients as they can become infected and cause endocarditis.

This is a very different kind of condition, so unless there is a secondary problem beyond the cardiomyopathy there is no reason not to proceed. 

We did find, however, one study (reference 18) referred to in another article

which suggested that in one case there had been unwanted changes as a consequence of treating specific points, so if you have any concerns about the patient based on his or her presentation you could always, with their consent, approach their GP to ensure that it is OK to treat. This is the advice which we invariably give to BAcC members if they are not sure.

Post a question

If you have any questions about acupuncture, browse our archive or ask an expert.

Ask an expert

BAcC Factsheets

Research based factsheets have been prepared for over 60 conditions especially for this website

Browse the facts

In the news

Catch up with the latest news on acupuncture in the national media

Latest news