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Pain after acupuncture

Q: I had acupuncture for the first time on Friday, followed by discomfort, very bad pain in the soft tissues around the knee.  5 days later moving around and then on the eighth night with burning sensation. Five needles 2,5 - 5 mm were placed in the thigh about 5 cm above the knee. The sessions of after pain have made me numb and unable to do much. Can be this from the acupuncture and how long I should expect this to last?

A: We would have to say that the effects are very probably from the acupuncture treatment. It might just be a coincidence, and with over 4 million treatments in the UK every year such coincidences can occur. However, when a symptom turns up exactly where the needles were placed it would be very strange if this were caused by anything else.

The question is, what has happened? The pain sounds like they started pretty much straight away, and seem to have progressed, We could understand it if the pain had levelled out after a couple of days. Occasionally treatment can cause some deep bruising, and this can impinge nerves in the area and cause quite unpleasant side effects for up to a fortnight after the treatment. However, the needle depths would seem to rule this out.

The only other possibility is that there is a slight infection in the area. If the practitioner is following the normal protocols for single use disposable needles, one needle per point,  this won't come from the needles themselves or by transfer from site to site. What can happen, rare as it is, is that bacteria from the surface can be pushed into deeper layers of the dermis and cause what is called autogenic infection, i.e. bacteria which are safe where they are but reactive when they are moved to different or deeper areas of the body.

This is highly speculative, but if you were one of our patients we would send you to your doctor just to be on the safe side. It might be a rare coincidence, and there might be something going on in the area which needs further investigation. If so, then a doctor will be able to offer an explanation and treatment, and in many cases be able to tell you whether the acupuncture treatment may have been involved.

It might, though, simply be an unusually extended post treatment adverse effect which will wear off. The fact that this is causing post pain numbness and limitation of movement, though, suggests something more significant and we would recommend that you consult