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Acupuncture and side effects

Q:  A practitioner performed acupuncture treatment on me and inserted a needle on the bottom of my left foot along with other points. I felt some pressure when inserting the needles, but it wasn't too painful. When the needle was pulled out I felt intense pain. The next day, it wasn't quite as painful and I saw a very light bruise on the bottom of my foot. The pain persisted for the week and it was a mild pain and usually comes on when I walk. It was only that particular point that is still painful. I told the practitioner on the next appointment a week after the initial treatment and he told me that its normal for that point to feel discomfort and he didn't seem too concerned. Now its been 11 days, and the mild pain is still there without signs of improvement but the light bruise went away.

I don't suspect any malpractice, but was wondering if this is normal and should I be concerned with anything? Would this mild pain go away on its own? I'm concerned if it could be something more serious like a blood clot, damaged nerve or a damaged tendon as a result of the acupuncture.

A: We think that the advice your practitioner gave you is correct, and that while this seems to have taken a little longer than similar bruising to resolve it will eventually dissipate. It may well be that while the visible evidence of bruising has gone there may still be some deeper bruising which has consolidated and which is impinging a local nerve. This would mean that any weightbearing would be likely to generate a reaction.


However, just because serious adverse events are very rare does not mean that they do not happen, and so if the problem persists more than two or three weeks that may well be a good reason to have further investigations. We think it highly unlikely that there has been any permanent damage to nerves because if the practitioner had hit a nerve on the foot you would have known all about it. A blood clot sounds dramatic, but that is all that deep bruising is and it isn't likely to travel from the area. Tendon or ligament damage is possible, but our experience has been that if there are reports of tendon damage the point where they are caused is painful at the moment of insertion. In short, if the problem didn't resolve quietly over the next few days we would be puzzled!

You can discount bits of needle. The standard of needle manufacture has improve dramatically in the last twenty years, and the fact that all needles are now used only once and then thrown away in the sharps box means that broken needles are almost unheard of. The principle cause of what even then was a rare event was the constant autoclaving to sterilise a used needle which made the steel brittle. As we said, now a thing of the past.

 We confidently expect this pain to diminish and go away within the week, but if it does remain into a third week we would certainly recommend that you let your GP have a look to see what may be going on.

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