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Ask an expert - general

213 questions

File under general - uncategorised

We are very sorry to hear of your problem.

Long-lasting side effects from acupuncture treatment are very rare. Where these happen they are generally to do with the 'wound' of the needle, i.e. puncturing or touching a part of the body. Surface responses are usually transient, lasting no more than 48-72 hours. Where these occur it can result from one or two special cases. First is a possible allergy to the stainless steel of the needle. Needles are usually composite material, and one or two types contain a small amount of nickel to which some people are very allergic. This can trigger a response which can last for some time. The other possibility is that the needles has a silicon coating. This has been a modern development to make the needle insertion smoother, but again there are some patients who find silicon can generate nasty side effects.

Leaving aside the technical causes, there is a small chance that this is a reaction to the treatment in terms of the stirring up of energies which have raised but not removed an internal pathogen. It depends to some extent on the kind of acupuncture you were having - traditional or medical - but in our experience a medical acupuncturist can generate what we call an energetic reaction without having any idea that this is what they are doing. If this does happen, though, it does tend to dissipate relatively quickly, so it would be unlikely to be causing longstanding pain.

Another possibility is that there has been a failure of hygienic practice, and there has been some form of transfer of surface material to areas of the skin where it is not checked. We advise members to take extra care where someone has just had surgery, and to treat them as though they were immuno-compromised because the chance of infection is a little higher.

Finally, there is also a possibility that this has got nothing to do with the acupuncture and may simply be a coincidence. With over four million treatments a year there are going to be a number of cases where something just happens to start at the same time and a spurious causality is assumed. This always sounds overly defensive - 'it wasn't me' - but we have seen a number of cases where the problem simply could not have arisen from the treatment, however it may have appeared to be the cause.

The most important thing, though, is to find out what is happening, and for this you will need to get a referral to a dermatologist via your GP. It would be helpful if you can provide information from your acupuncture practitioner about where needles have been inserted because this will help to establish potential causal factors.

More than this we are sorry to say we cannot say. Sight unseen it is very difficult to give a definitive view when an adverse effect arises, but we hope that we have given you enough information to consider what might have been the case and to find an effective way to get rid of the irritation and pain.

Accidents and adverse events following acupuncture treatment are quite rare. Where they do happen the majority are caused by a needle damaging a part of the body directly and immediately, and there is usually a very clear cause and effect relationship between the two, like puncturing a lung or causing a large bruise. As we said, though, in the UK these sorts of accidents and adverse effects are very unusual, as our insurance records show.

We do, though, often see people get a little worse after an initial session, sometimes for up to 48 hours and especially where we are treating a back of joint problem. The increased stiffness is quite common, and while there are several possible explanations for why this occurs, there is general agreement that the effect will wear off quite quickly and be replaced by a gradual improvement in the joint or back function.

Could acupuncture do done wrongly? Well, yes. It is always possible to needle too deeply or too vigorously, and this can have longer lasting effects. When someone has a pre-existing condition this becomes almost impossible to prove, because a practitioner will always claim, often legitimately, that this is just a worsening of the original condition which could have happened anyway. We have some sympathy with this argument; with over 4 million treatments a year there are bound to be times when treatment happens to coincide with a deterioration which is has not caused. However, the fact that one of the needles was wiggled and caused pain could indicate that there has been some deep bruising which is taking a long time to recover, especially if the joint is somewhat 'stuck' anyway. We would always expect this to clear up eventually, though.

We don't think that acupuncture per se would exacerbate an existing condition, though. Certainly from a Chinese medicine perspective we are trying to change patterns of stuck energy, and our experience is that if we do a treatment which the system does not accept it merely reverts to how it was before. This is, indeed, one of the challenges in treatment, because the 'habit' energy can be quite hard to dispel. We have rarely seen a condition get worse directly because of treatment, as we said at the beginning. 

We are sorry to hear that you are still being troubled in this way, and understand if you are not too keen on acupuncture treatment as a consequence. We do believe, though, that the use of traditional acupuncture rather than western medical acupuncture might still offer a solution to your problems and we would be happy to suggest that you visit a BAcC member local to you for informal advice on how best to proceed. Most of our colleagues are happy to give up a little time without charge to prospective patients, and this would give you a far better idea of what may be possible.

An interesting and unusual question! Battlefield acupuncture is  not really within the usual scope of traditional acupuncture, and derives mainly from the work of Richard Niemtzow and his colleagues in the last two decades. This 'expert' recalls seeing one of his first major presentations of the technique at a BAcC conference in the early 2000s, and there was no mention of any specific cautions over and above the safe and hygienic methods we all use anyway when inserting needles.

The best steer we can find is from advice given to people who have had body piercings. These are much larger and if there was a risk then this would be massively amplified by a more substantial piece of metal. The only real caution we could find was that it would be better to avoid using a sunbed in the first two or three weeks after a piercing has been inserted in order not to aggravate the wound. We strongly suspect that this would be the best advice we could offer.

Of course, the person who will be best equipped to field this question will be the practitioner who inserted the needles. On the assumption that they have trained in the technique rather than self-taught by the use of books and videos, it is highly likely that they will have been alerted to possible risks like this. However, we have also searched the adverse events databases and haven't found any reports to suggest that there is a risk from using a sunbed after acupuncture. 

 

 

 

 

We are often asked whether adverse reactions are normal, and our usual response is 'not normal, but not unknown'. It is not unusual early in a  course of treatment for someone to experience a slight worsening of their original symptoms (we aren't sure what you presenting problem is/was) or even the expulsion of pathogens which can cause the body to feel a little sore. Pathogens in the Chinese medicine sense can cover a  wide range of what the Chinese called 'invasions' like colds and viral conditions which can lurk around until they are expelled. Occasionally people do feel flu-like symptoms out of nowhere. It is unusual to find this happening on the third session rather than the first or second time, but there are no rules. The aches should subside within 49-72 hours.

Of course, the possibility which we have to factor in is that this is a new condition which has nothing to do with the treatment. With over 4 million sessions a year there are bond to be odd times when something comes up just after a session which has nothing to do with the treatment. it is always best to bear this in mind if the problem continues for more than a few days. Acupuncture very rarely causes long term adverse effects except on the rare occasions when a needle pierces something it shouldn't, so if a potential side-effect doesn't subside after about four days then it is worth seeking medical advice.

Hopefully by the time you receive this the aches and soreness will have subsided. 

 

We have to be honest and say that it is almost impossible to predict how many sessions someone will need. We can make educated guesses with some problems, but I suspect all of us have had the experience of saying 'two or three sessions should do it' and then found ourselves ten sessions down the line with a better but unnecessarily disappointed patient. All that we can do is to make sure that we review progress on a regular basis (every four or five sessions) to assess what progress there has been and whether it is worth continuing.

Anxiety can be particularly difficult to treat, although the research does point in favour of acupuncture, as our factsheet shows

https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/anxiety.html.

However, the causes of anxiety and the different types are so many that it is very difficult to make predictions. If someone has been anxious for thirty years, though, it might be reasonable to expect that it will take a while to unlearn some of the behaviour patterns that have developed.

That said, we do often see people change after the first session, sometimes in terms of feeling that they are now oriented in the right direction and able to start a journey towards better inner states. This change can be subtle but anxiety sufferers who are often very tuned in to their inner states can often perceive the difference. Progress can sometimes be unpredictable, though, and life cna often generate challenges which cause setbacks.

On balance, though, we see many people for the treatment of anxiety, and we get many of our referrals by word of mouth, so as smart lawyers say, res ipsa loquitur!

 

 

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