Q. I have a question on the possible side effects of accupuncture.
I have been lower back pain for 6 months. This may have originated from a slipped disc but the pain is now less severe but shifting. It is primarily in my hips and buttocks, with some down the back of my legs. The pain is sometimes a stinging sensation, sometimes a burning. My NHS physio has given me one session of accupuncture. However, the stinging has been worse since (almost a week ago). Is this of any concern? I am due to go back for more in 2 days. Many thanks.
A. Acupuncture is a very safe intervention - adverse events are very rare. In cases like this, where a pain seems to increase after treatment there are three possibilities:
- that the increase in the pain has coincided with, but not been caused by, the treatment. It is not unknown for an acupuncture treatment to be held responsible for anything which happens after a treatment.
- this is a healing reaction - it is also not uncommon when treating musculo-skeletal problems to find that some of the symptoms are exacerbated over the next 24-48 hours, after which they usually subside and there is then a gradual improvement in the presenting condition
- this is an adverse event associated with the treatment itself. Most adverse events are temporary and transient, such as minor bruising or slight discomfort. Only a very few involve cause damage or persisting pain to the patient.
In this particular case, the best course of action is to discuss the matter thoroughly with the physiotherapist to see what their take on the problem is. He or she will have the techniques available to assess whether the discomfort which you are experiencing is associated with any changes in the structural alignments in the lower back brought about by the overall package of treatment. In general terms, however, it would be more likely that the stinging has increased as a consequence of an overall shift in the structure of the lower back, rather than being a direct consequence of the physical insertion of a needle. In the rare cases where a needle touches a nerve the sensation is immediate and unmistakeable. Your physio will be able to assess whether the points they have used could have caused such a reaction.
It is important to remember that treatment of any kind involves the informed consent of the patient. If you have reservations about the use of acupuncture as a part of your treatment you are free to request that it not be done.