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Ask an expert - about acupuncture - side effects

134 questions

Q:   I had my first acupuncture treatment 10 days ago with no ill effects. When I went back today the practitioner, who is very experienced and fully registered, told me that he had had a problem with a batch of needles which he had ordered from a reputable source,and which he had used for my last treatment. Patients treated with this batch of needles had come out in a rash, at the site, similar to hives. When he checked my buttock area, sure enough I had about 5 of these spots. They had not bothered me and in fact I was unaware of them until he told me. He told me he has noted the case sheets of all patients concerned and told them to photograph the area concerned as a precaution I suppose. He was obviously very concerned and has not ever had this happen in nearly 20 years of practice. He is sure that the problem was with the needles which came from a new supplier, although someone he knew. He has immediately stopped using them and returned them.  Is it likely that I would suffer any long-term problem or will the rash fade? He is a very experienced and fully registered practitioner.

A: It is extremely unlikely that you will suffer any long-term problems. We hear of this from time to time, and it can happen because of a slight change in the coating applied to the needle by manufacturers. Some patients are highly sensitive to silicone coating, for example, whereas others who are used to silicone coated needles react when a steel alloy with some other metal but no coating is used on them. In all cases like this we have never heard of anyone having a long term mark or rash as a consequence. There is also no record on our insurer's lists of any claims made for this occurrence.
We are heartened by the actions of your practitioner. His way of dealing with the situation appears to have been exemplary, and we are sure that he will keep you informed about the outcome of this event.

Q:  I had accupuncture therapy for the first time due to stress and anxiety.  i experienced strong vertigo type symptoms when the needle was inserted in my palm, please explain if this is normal and why it happened. Also, the feeling quickly subsided once the needle was removed.

A:  While we would not go so far as to say that what you experienced was 'normal' it does lie within the range of possible reactions to treatment, and for a variety of reasons. People can react very differently to treatment. Some are very sensitive and can experience quite profound reactions, like dizziness or even feeling faint, and one quickly adjusts the strength of treatment given (less needles, less stimulation of the needles) to ensure that they do not get overwhelmed by the experience. Others show almost no reaction to having needles inserted, and are a puzzle to us because they should feel the tiny pinprick if nothing else.
Most people experience one of two common reactions, a short tingling sensation or a slightly longer lasting dull ache, which the Chinese call 'deqi'. The key thing is that both of these sensations tend to be short-lived, and if they do produce a manifest reaction like a headache or dizziness, this lasts at worst for only few hours. What you experienced, especially with the sensation going when the needles was removed, suggests that you are quite sensitive to treatment. It would be worth your while telling your practitioner in detail about what you experienced to make any adjustments necessary.
It is also important to bear in mind that acupuncture can be a very powerful therapy, and if the practitioner has been trying to clear blockages or reinstate a flow in putting your system back in order, this can often produce a 'surge' of energy which people experience as you did. This is a very positive sign.
We should mention in passing, however, a much more prosaic cause of odd reactioins to treatment is people not having eaten enough prior to the needles. This is one of the commonest causes of feeling faint during or after treatment. 

Q:  My 72 year old mother had her first and only acupuncture session almost 1 year ago. Since this time she has felt dreadful and feels as though her body is in a state of shock. She has burning sensations in her arms and legs, numbness, shaking hands and fatigue. She has been to the doctors and seen specialists who have carried out a number of routine tests but these have all been fine. The only thing my mother can put her illness down to is the acupuncture. Is it possible that acupuncture can result in this kind of chronic side effect? She is becoming quite desperate so any assistance / advice / information would be most appreciated.

A:  We are sorry to hear of your mother's condition.
The vast majority of adverse events associated with acupuncture treatment are very short-lived. At worst we are talking about a handful of cases a year, and the kinds of reaction are things like headaches, or drowsiness, or very occasionally an emotional release (although sometimes these have a more cathartic significance). Life changing adverse events such as this are extremely rare, and usually involve a direct physiological occurrence - an organ or nerve penetration.
That said, we do recognise that acupuncture can occasionally disturb someone's energies, as we understand them, especially if the treatment was too powerful for the patient, or occasionally because it has uncovered patterns which were best left covered up. There are also people for whom acupuncture is simply too powerful; each of us has had the experience of someone for whom one needle was both enough and too much.
It is difficult to know what to recommend. Clearly your mother will be completely acupuncture averse, and with good reason. It may be possible to contact another practitioner in your area to ask advice about what may have happened, and generally speaking our members are as keen as anyone else to examine cases like this because it provides good feedback to share with all of us. If the practitioner was a BAcC member we are all fully insured, and you would be within your rights to launch a claim - that's what we pay our insurance for. This would, of course, bring the case notes into play, and the insurers might well ask for expert advice about the treatments given and whether they could have been responsible for your mother's condition.
There is also the possibility, of course, that the acupuncture treatment and the problems which your mother has are contingently related, but in cases where the treatment was the only different factor in an otherwise stable routine, it makes sense to examine this as the possible causal agent first.
We're afraid that's all we can offer given what we have to go on so far. If you think that there may be a way of helping your mother to resolve what is going on, even if this is simply to understand it, it might be worth calling our specialist safe practice or professional conduct staff directly if the practitioner is a BAcC member. This would at least put more facts at our disposal.


Q:  After the first treatment at the acupuncturist for infertility I have experienced what resembles mosquito bites at all points where needles were inserted. The acupuncturist then tried other types of needles for the following treatment. Symptoms have returned the second time as well. It is extremely itchy and only improved after three days. I have had acupuncture at another place before and this has not happened.

A:  This is most unusual. Generally speaking, what your practitioner did was quite right. Although all of the needles we use look the same there can be variations in the metallic mixture, and some contain traces of other metals than stainless steel to which some patients are allergic and respond as you did. Some needles are also silicon coated to make them easier to insert, and people can sometimes respond here too - either the needles you used to have were coated and these aren't, or vice versa.
Anyway, the practitioner was right to vary the type to see if this made a difference. If this hasn't worked , then the options are to contact the former practitioner to see if obtaining the same needles as you had before could work better, or to look carefully at anything else which has changed in your overall health by way of medications or similar which may be causally connected to the reaction.
If all else fails, then unfortunately it may be a balancing act between the benefits which treatment may deliver in the longer term against the shorter term discomforts.
We are sorry to hear of your experience, though. This is quite a rare occurrence, and is probably the last thing you want to have on your mind at this time. We hope that you and your practitioner are able to find a solution this.

Q:  I had acupuncture about 9 months ago. When she stuck the needles in my neck and turned them it hurt. Ever since I have experienced problems with my neck in the same places. Could this be undone? ie turn back the needles

A:  Lovely as it would be to rectify a problem by simply doing the reverse of what appeared to cause it we are afraid that this is not a possibility. The first thing to establish is what exactly has happened. Although there can be adverse effects arising from acupuncture treatment, nearly all of them, including the ones which cause minor physical injury like bruising or irritation of a nerve, resolve quite quickly. The fact that something has persisted for this long means that it warrants further investigation to establish what has happened.
The first thing to do, if you have not done so already, is to see your GP and seek his or her advice on what investigations it may be worth doing to see if there has been physical damage as a consequence of treatment. Your describe them as though there is a direct causal relationship, so if there has been damage you will need to know what. Depending on the severity of the pain this might then lead to a referral to an orthopaedic consultant or a rheumatologist, and/or a scan. Once they have established what has happened, they can sort out what treatment may be necessary.
We can't tell from your question whether you returned to the acupuncturist and what their take was on what happened, and especially what they did to try to rectify the situation. In some cases the problem can be one to do with energy (a blockage or disturbance cvaused by treatments) which further treatment can resolve.
If there is an injury which has caused or continues to cause pain and requires investigations all UK acupuncturists who belong to proessional associations are fully and properly insured, and the practitioner can give you the contact details of their insurers if you want to make a claim. If the practitioner is a BAcC member, you can get the details of our professional insurance by calling or e-mailing our main office in London.
We hope that you manage to establish what has happened and that the problem is treated successfuly.  

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