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Horrendous back pain after acupuncture

Q:  I had my first session of acupuncture on Thursday morning, Straight after it finished I got a dull ache in my lower back where I had the treatment.  It just got worse to the point I now can't stand up straight as the pain is horrendous, no painkillers are helping, is this normal and what can I do?

A:  We are sorry that this reply will have taken a few days to reach you - we channel all our responses through a single portal to keep track of replies and this only operates Tuesday to Thursday.

We are sorry to hear that you are in such great discomfort. We are aware that there are times when treating back and neck problems where they can become very much exacerbated when treatment starts, to the extent that it feels as though something terrible has happened. This is never the case; acupuncture remains one of the safest healthcare interventions in use in the UK. It is generally thought, however, that the treatment encourages the body back into better shape and this can cause discomfort or even inflammation when ligaments and tendons are asked to work as they should and not in the often mechanically disadvantageous way they have been doing.  This is by means universally agreed by all practitioners, but whatever the reason if it is a reaction to treatment the chances are that the effects will have worn off by the time you read this and you will be seeing an improvement.

If the pains are a direct result of the treatment this may be because one of the needles has caused minor bruising in the area which may be causing some nerve irritation. This too should subside very quickly.

However, we are concerned that you report that the painkillers are not touching the pain, and in the circumstances if this remains the case when you receive this it might be a good idea to talk to the practitioner and possibly your GP about what is happening. There are two possibilities. First is that there has been some physical damage from the needles, and if so, because accidents can always happen, you need to get this checked immediately. Second is that the pain is not directly related to the treatment but happens to have coincided with it. This is not an attempt to evade responsibility, but we have seen a small number of situations where the arguments have kicked off about whether the treatment did or did not cause the problem while the problem itself has gone untreated. The priority has to be to establish what is causing such pain, and to address it. Causation can be sorted out later.

We hope, though, that by the time you read this the pains will have subsided. The vast majority of side effects from treatment are very short lived, and these themselves are few in number.

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