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Nerve damage after having acupuncture for a headache

Q:  My partner is an acupuncture student and was practicing on me in an effort to relieve a headache of mine. He inserted one of the needles in the space next to my pinky knuckle and I experienced a small explosive sensation, as if an elastic band had snapped on the surface of my knuckle, along with some sharp pain. It faded for a couple days and since the pain has returned and become a chronic soreness, that is acute when I grasp and turn things with my hand. This has continued for a week now, and I am concerned that I have permanent nerve damage and accompanying pain. Do you have any insight you can offer into what happened and where I can go from here. If it is nerve damage is there hope for recovery?

A:  We think that it is highly unlikely that you have suffered permanent nerve damage. The most likely cause of your pain, if the point is the one which we suspect it is, is that there has been a small bruise caused by the insertion of the needle and which lies hard up against a nerve or tendon passing through the area. Whenever you grip something or move a little, this is going to press on the surrounding tissue and cause discomfort. Generally speaking these sorts of problems resolve themselves within a couple of weeks. 

It is unlikely, given the needling techniques taught to students, that there has been anything forceful enough to cause physical damage. However, without knowing exactly what was done and what gauge, depth and angle of needle insertion we are a little bit limited in what we can say. We are, though, just a little bit concerned that you experienced a snapping sensation. If a nerve is hit this is usually experienced as an electric shock feeling, and often causes involuntary movement in the affected area. If the problems persist for more than another week we would be very inclined to recommend that you see your GP and get the area checked. It would be particularly important to see whether this has affected your range of movement of grip.

That said, in all likelihood it will have resolved by the time you read this. We are bound to say, though, that it does highlight a small problem about receiving treatment from someone who is not qualified. Many training courses take a very dim view of students practising without permission, and although some have what is called pre-qualifying practice where the student has insurance and a permit to work unsupervised away from the course, the majority only insure someone working inside the course premises and working in properly established conditions. If something very much more damaging had occurred there would be no insurance cover and the only redress would be a civil action, which is not renowned for cementing good relationships. It also means that a student would be limited in what they could ask, given that they could get thrown off a course for practising pre-qualification. 

Sorry to have to mention this, but we often tell our members that treating friends and family at any time except in emergencies is fraught with problems. People think that being  a friend means that someone will not complain or sue - they are wrong!

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