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Having pain and stiffness in lower back after acupuncture

Q:  I received acupuncture today from a new practitioner. He was treating me for a hormonal disorder. . He inserted a needle into my spine and  I felt a  sharp, painful sensation in my spine and down the back of my right leg. The practitioner saw that I tensed up and  after I told him what I felt but he didn't seem concerned. Now I have pain and stiffness in my lower back, if feels like it did when I injured it a few years back.  It's very painful. TDo you have any advice for me?

A: It is always difficult to say in the first 48 hours after treatment whether there is a permanent problem or a short term adverse effect which will wear off shortly. We tend to advise patients having treatment for a back problem that things can be exacerbated a little by treatment, and this can mean on occasion a return of symptoms or even an increase in symptoms. This can often be a normal healing response which can often feel like a more intense version of an original problem

However, there is a great deal of delicate tissue and blood vessel in the back, and if someone has needled a small blood vessel and caused minor bruising this can often put pressure on local nerves and cause a quite nasty and prolonged pain until the bruising subsides. This is the most likely cause, and you may find that the bruising becomes apparent on the skin surface within the next day or two.

We have to admit to a slight amount of concern about the fact that you felt a reaction down the back of your leg. This might suggest that the practitioner has caught the sciatic nerve, which would be very painful and could cause a slightly longer lasting sensation. We don't think that this would cause any lasting damage, but we would certainly want to know if the needle was inserted in the midline into the spine or just to one side. Great care has to be taken for midline needling.

We are confident, though, that this will prove to be what we call a transient adverse event, which means that it should have disappeared within a couple of days. If the pain continues beyond that, or if you get any return of the sensations down the back of the leg, it would be a good idea to pop along to your GP just to let him or her have a look. You might also want to call the practitioner and ask for advice. He or she will know exactly what has been done, and can advise you with a little more accuracy than we can here with only a basic account to go on. 

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