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Ask an expert - general

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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!

 

 

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.

 

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