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Can acupuncture cause swollen glands after treatment for whiplash?

Q:  48 hours ago I received my first treatment for whiplash from a car accident 4 months ago. Yesterday I noticed some tender lumps on my neck at the base of my skull. This morning I noticed those lumps weren't as tender but more tender spots developed while I was sleeping. I have a really tender one behind my left ear that almost feels like a swollen gland. Is this normal? My acupuncturist told me any tender spots should dissipate within a few hours with heat application but it's been 2 days and more lumps developed even after using heat. I can't find anything online about acupuncture causing swollen glands.

A:  We wouldn't go so far as to say that this is normal, but it is possible. We do sometimes find that when we treat areas where there has been some form of congestion or blockage a number of unusual reactions can occur as the flow of energy resumes.

However, your acupuncturist's advice is probably right - these sorts of reactions should die down within 48 hours, and if they don't they are worthy of further exploration. The obvious question to check first off would be whether the lumps have appeared where the needles themselves were applied. Many practitioners use a number of points in this area for treating whiplash, often to dissipate some of the muscle tension that gathers in the area, and there are a few patients who are allergic to needles themselves. Some, although not as many as used to be the case, contain nickel, to which people can often be allergic, and some have a silicon coating to aid insertion. This too can cause a small minority of patients to react strongly. In both of these cases, there resulting 'bumps' might last a little longer.

If they persist after four or five days, then it would be necessary to find out more about how they present. Are the lumps under the skin and palpable but with no surface appearance, or is there redness and inflammation. This would help to determine whether there is any localised infection, although that would be very rare. The use of single use disposable pre-sterilised needles has all but removed this as a possibility, but it does present a theoretical risk, with the most likely sites of infection being where the needles were actually placed.

There is, of course, the possibility that this has actually nothing to do with the treatment itself but is some form of strange coincidence. We say this because with nearly 3 million treatments a year there are going to be unusual symptoms which begin after a treatment which have nothing to do with the treatment itself. This can sometimes lead to inconclusive arguments about what caused what while the problem is not properly addressed. This is why in all these cases we tend to say that if the symptoms persist for more than three or four days you should book an appointment with your GP as a safeguard to ensure that if this is something which requires conventional treatment it is better treated earlier than later.

It is also worthwhile staying in touch with your practitioner and possibly arranging to pop back in to see him or her so that they can take a look at what is going on and offer any relevant advice based on their knowledge of what they have been trying to achieve.


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