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Pain after acupuncture and cupping

Q:  I had acupuncture with cupping about 4 months ago. The one that was placed on my left shoulder blade area caused local pain which radiated up my neck as a sudden sharp pain. I told the practitioner when he came back after about 5 minutes and he removed that one. Since then I've had pain in that area and in my neck which is getting worse by the day and at times it's agony. What could be the problem?

A:  We are at a loss to explain what might have happened here.

Cupping itself is a relatively safe procedure except for the possibility of leaving some marking or bruising on the back or shoulders when it is used. A responsible practitioner will ensure that a patient knows that this may well happen, and also offer sensible aftercare advice in the unlikely but possible event that a small burn or bruise may appear some time later.

It would be most unusual for cupping to cause a radiating pain, however. The only thing we can imagine is that you may have moved in reaction to the cupping in a way which caused a tendon to stretch and tear slightly, which unlikely as it sounds might happen if you were at all nervous about what was going on and made a sharp manoeuvre with the body already 'set'. Other than that we can think of no other way that this could have happened, especially since the problem appears to be getting worse.

The best course of action in a case like this is to see your GP and ask for an assessment of the problem and potentially a referral either to a neurologist or rheumatologist to find out exactly what is happening. This will probably show how the acupuncture may have caused or exacerbated the problem, if indeed it was the causal factor. In your case something clearly happened at the time you were having treatment, but there remains the possibility that it was a pre-existing problem which treatment brought to the surface.

We say this not to be defensive - if something happens while a treatment is taking place it is a fairly safe bet that the treatment caused it - but to avoid people getting into dispute with practitioners before either knows exactly what has happened. In our experience further investigation pretty much always identifies the cause, and if this does point to the acupuncture treatment then there are ways of seeking restitution for any detriment you have suffered under our professional indemnity insurance.