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Ask an expert - general

213 questions

We are sorry to hear about your experience. We tend to the view that most adverse effects of treatment are transient, and we tend to advise patients that the next 48 hours could see some reactions, especially after a first session. If the person is highly sensitive to treatment, then this can extended a little further, but certainly there should be no continuing reaction after a week.

What happens after that will depend on the practitioner. We are all able to tone down the strength of treatment by using fewer needles, gentler insertions or less manipulation of the needle, and a sensitive practitioner will treat with great caution when he or she gets feedback like this. If the reaction kicks off while you are being treatment common sense suggests that the treatment proceeds slowly to ensure that you don't feel sedated. First treatments can often be more likely to generate side effects, especially if they unlock blockages in areas like the lower back, and subsequent sessions are rarely as disconcerting.

Of course, the other interpretation is that the vertigo is not connected to the treatment itself but has arisen independently. With over 4 million treatments in the UK each year there could well be times when a problem appears alongside treatment, even alongside transient side effects of treatment, and have nothing to do with the treatment itself. Dizziness and vertigo 48 hours after a session would be very unusual, and if this continues into the next few days you need to get this checked out with your GP. It may be a sign of a contingent infection affecting your inner ear, but it is important not to assume that it is acupuncture-related and wait to see what happens. If it something which would have made you see a GP if you hadn't had acupuncture then you should head off their as soon as possible to find out what is happening.

We hope that by the time you receive this the side effects will have subsided, and if so, we hope that the treatment of your lower back pain is successful. Many people get very good results from acupuncture for lower back pains, and even the NICE guidelines until recently recommended this as one of the better treatment options.


We are sorry to hear of your continuing problems.

As far as direct physical damage is concerned we would be very surprised if the acupuncture treatment could have generated adverse effects like these which continue for a couple of years. The key factor here is that the temple pains are bilateral. A practitioner might get unlucky and cause irritation of a nerve on rare occasions  but to do so with a range of points over all parts of the head would require someone to be using excessively powerful needle insertions on all occasions. In our experience if someone was doing this the pains would be immediate and unmistakable.

However, one can never rule anything out completely, and the one rare possibility is that the needles have been manipulated vigorously and caused bruising which has formed local scar tissue which in turn is impinging some of the local nerves. This is something which you could discuss with your GP, and possibly also have some bloods taken to see of there is anything in your clotting factors which predisposes you to bleeding with small wounds or cuts.

The other two possibilities are straightforward. One is that the reaction is energetic, and that the treatment has in some way uncovered or created blockages which haven't yet been cleared. This again would be rare. Where treatment generates these kinds of transient adverse effects they tend to last or about 48 hours and then the system returns to the status quo. Two years would be a remarkable length of time, and again the fact that the effect is bilateral tends to make this less likely.

The second possibility is that the discomfort and pain has nothing to do with the treatment but just happened to turn up at the same time in roughly the same place. With over 4 million treatments a year being offered in the UK there are bound to be coincidences, and our main concern when this happens is to ensure that arguments kick off about whether the acupuncture did or did not cause the problem. Our advice is always to see the GP and have the problems checked. This tends to identify the cause and in turn this usually reveals whether the acupuncture treatment has caused the issue.

So, in summary, this is not a normal side effect from treatment, and certainly not this length of time after the treatment. We would recommend that you visit your GP to get inside the system again in order to find out what is going on. Sometimes we recommend that people go back to the practitioner to discuss what they did and for them to assess whether from their perspective there is something they can see which could alleviate the problem, but we have to accept that patients who have suffered adverse effects are reluctant to go back and even more reluctant to have further treatment. However, it remains an option.


We usually filter all our responses via our London Office, but in this case, with the office closed until Monday, it is essential that you get a response immediately. If you're father is a Type 1 diabetic stopping his insulin is putting his life at risk, and he must start taking it again immediately. 

If he feels that the acupuncture treatment he has been receiving has changed his balance in such a way that he can address his diabetes with a lower dose of insulin then that is something he can discuss with his doctor. If the doctor agrees then he can start to reduce his dose. Otherwise he is putting himself in danger.

Our members  are trained never to recommend that someone stops taking an essential medication unless it is with the agreement, and under the direct supervision, of their doctor. We would most probably take action against a member who put a patient at risk for suggesting that they stop taking an essential medication.

We are sorry if this seems a little alarmist but we have seen cases where not taking insulin on time has had serious consequences, and we cannot stand by and do nothing if your father has been advised to do something which has put himself at risk.

In our experience it would be most unlikely for acupuncture treatment to reverse the causes of Type 1 diabetes. For this reason we need to reiterate that your father seeks medical advice as soon as possible.



It is rather difficult for us to comment on the clinical strategies of individual practitioners. Without reference to the notes or the patients themselves we are reluctant to make observations which may be then used to criticise or take issue with a practitioner.

in general, we can say that there has been some research into the use of acupuncture for fibromyalgia, as our factsheet shows

but it is far from conclusive. Our clinical experience is that it can take a very long time for the problem to resolve, and it is almost always a complex presentation involving both physical and emotional issues. When we take on patients with fibromyalgia we are always very clear that it will probably be a long haul, and that progress will be slow.

From this perspective we are a little puzzled about the frequency of your treatment. We would normally only treat someone this often in an acute situation, like a locked back, and this mirrors what happens in China where quite often a course of treatment will involve daily treatment for ten days. Without knowing exactly what your presenting symptoms were we are a little surprised that your practitioner has worked in this way. However, eighteen years of experience means that she may well have hit upon a way that works for her and for her patients, and if so and if her professional judgement is that this is an effective way to treat you, then it is worth sticking with it.

However, we are always very clear with our members that a patient to whom everything has been explained and from whom informed consent is given at every stage is usually a happy patient. We recommend that members review progress with their patients every five to ten sessions so that everyone is in the clear about how things are going. This also gives a patient  a chance to ask questions about what is happening. Good communication is everything!

Perhaps the best thing to do is discuss matters with your practitioner if you are feeling a little uncertain. Our view has always been that a responsible practitioner will always listen to patient concerns. If they don't, then that becomes a factor in deciding whether to continue!


If we are talking about straight causation, like an adverse effect from treatment, then the answer is probably not. There are many surveys of adverse events, and colds and flu are not recorded as an adverse effect of treatment. With over 4 million treatments a year in the UK there are bound to be a number of coincidences where a cold or flu virus takes hold at the same time as a treatment but is not directly related to it.

Having said that, there are occasions when treatment can release pathogens which the body has stored but not properly dealt with, and it is just on the margins of possibility that this might have happened. The ancient Chinese saw the symptoms of what we now explain as viruses arising from 'invasions' of pathogenic factors, often expressed as cold, wind or damp. If the body has had such an invasion but the person's constitutional energy has not been strong enough to expel it fully it might take treatment at a later date to 'release' the problem. If this were the case then someone might experience a short and sharp return of symptoms. The effect would be short-lived, though; this is like a ripple on the surface as something leaves rather than a full scale viral attack. Although this can happen, the 'getting worse to get better' effect, it is not that common.

The confounding factor in giving an explanation, however, is that if acupuncture treatment was only a part of what was done in a holistic treatment there may have been other interventions or modalities which could have been responsible for what happened. 

On balance, though, we suspect it was a probably coincidence, and hope that it has not been too troublesome for you.



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