Q. I have had an on going hip and leg problem since the summer. I am now seeing a local physiotherapist who on my last visit suggested acupuncture, as the needle first went in to my buttock my leg went numb for a second or so, I just wondered if this is a normal response or should I avoid acupuncture with him in the future?
A. People can experience a range of sensations when they are needled. People frequently describe a dull, aching numbness where the needle has been inserted, and in China this is seen as a necessary component of successful treatment. Other patients report a mild tingling sensation.
The sensation is most often local to where the needle was inserted. In some cases people can report that the sensation 'travels', and the pathway usually follows the channels or meridians which are described in Chinese medicine for the flow of energy. Some Chinese practitioners use a quite vigorous form of needling to create this effect in what they term 'propagated needle sensation', often used to treat a problem from a distance and often where someone wants to help an affected limb.
It is possible, therefore, that your physiotherapist has, consciously or not, achieved this sensation in using needles which, if they are being inserted in the buttock, are likely to be longer and more substantial than the needles that practitioners customarily use. The other possibility is that the needles have been used at a depth which has got close to the sciatic nerve, and the sensation arises from the proximity to the nerve. It won't have been a direct hit on the nerve, which you would have experienced as an electric shock.
The important point is that the reaction lasted only a second or two. Unusual as it is, this may still be worth putting up with if the improvements you get from the acupuncture outweigh this slight disbenefit. If, however, you find this disconcerting, you can simply ask the physio not to use needles again.