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I am extremely concerned that this young acupuncturist has damaged my leg in some way

Q. I had been suffering,for a few weeks, with chronic pain in my left buttock/pelvis area. I had seen three different Physiotherapists, one I had seen privately and he thought it was emanating from my sacro illeac joint. The second one I saw in A & E at my local hospital and he said it was nerve pain and could be Piriformis syndrome. The third one wasn’t sure and gave me exercises to do, pending the outcome of my MRI scan. However prior to this scan I had been in such pain, although no pain at all below my left knee, that I paid to see an acupuncturist. She is registered with the BAC. During the session she used a Moxa stick and placed a needle in my lower left leg at the side of my knee. I felt an immediate deep dull ache/pain. I told her this but she left the needle in. She said this was normal. Nearly 4 weeks later I am still experiencing severe pain in my lower left leg. It seems to radiate from the needle insertion point to the front of my leg/shin. It keeps me awake at night and nothing seems to ease this pain. This area was not included in the MRI scan. I am extremely concerned that this young acupuncturist has damaged my leg in some way. She denies any responsibility for this. I am a healthy, usually active lady in her mid sixties, of a normal weight.

A. We are very sorry to hear what has happened to you. We are keenly aware that unusual outcomes after treatment can be very distressing.

The most common cause of what are, we have to say, quite rare events is that the needle has caused some deep bruising which is not visible on the surface of the skin. This can stay in situ for several weeks until it is cleared by the body. In the interim this can impinge some of the nerves in the area, and this in turn can cause pains in the area or lower down the limb. It should, however, clear up within a matter of weeks. Serious damage to local tissue is highly unlikely; the needles are too fine to penetrate most physical structures. The use of pre-sterilised needles in the manner in which all practitioner are trained will also rule out infection.

However, what is happening to you does sound a little serious, and were you to be our patient we would want you to attend your doctor's surgery for further investigation. Serious adverse events from acupuncture treatment are rare, but they can happen. When a symptom persists for more than a few days it is important to rule out anything more serious than a local bruise. In the old days of re-usable needles it might have suggested a piece of broken needle but in modern times where everyone uses single-use disposable needles this is unheard of.

As practitioners we would also be interested to hear of the state of the other problems you have been experiencing. One positive outcome, if we could call it that, would be if the treatment has caused an adjustment of the physical structure such that pains in the lower back/pelvis area had abated but been replaced by pains elsewhere. We do occasionally see a pattern where good adjustments in the torso can precipitate pains lower down the limbs, but in your case the fact that the pains started as the treatment took place suggests otherwise.

Our advice, then, is to arrange further investigation through your doctor. We think it is highly unlikely to be permanent damage or even serious damage, and it may have been a rather maladroit expression of this by the practitioner which has clearly added to your upset. The professional handling of patients is as much a concern to us as the safe practice of acupuncture itself. If you feel that the standard of care at this level was unacceptable or below our published standards we have clear procedures for handling such complaints to which we can direct you.

We hope, however, that you manage to see your GP and receive reassurance through further investigation that this is a transient, albeit longer lasting than usual, reaction.

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