Is acupuncture safe?

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Acupuncture is extremely safe - provided it is administered by a competent acupuncturist.

In 2 surveys –
one of members of the British Medical Acupuncture Society and the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists and the second of members of the British Acupuncture Council – involving 66,000 acupuncture treatments published in the British Medical Journal, no 'serious' side-effects were reported,
There were a total of 43 'significant' events which included:

• 6 occurrences of fainting
• 5 needles left in patients after treatment
• 1 skin infection
• 2 patients who felt anxious or panicked
• 3 patients who felt sick or vomited

All symptoms cleared within a week, except for one patient who experienced pain that lasted for 2 weeks.

This is an extremely good safety record and far better than many widely used drugs or medical interventions.

The most serious complication of acupuncture that I have personally experienced over 25 years of practicing is of one patient who fainted.

Mild side-effects

The most common side-effects experienced by patients receiving acupuncture treatments are:
• Pain or discomfort on needle insertion
• Bleeding from the needle site - nearly always very mild and transient
• Worsening of symptoms - usually temporary and likely to be followed by an improvement

Serious side-effects

Serious side-effects, and even deaths, have extremely rarely been reported after acupuncture. The most 'common', or perhaps I should say least rare, side-effect is that of a pneumothorax - or collapsed lung. However, these should never occur when being treated with an experienced acupuncturist with good anatomical knowledge. There have only ever been seven deaths anywhere in the world as a result of acupuncture. This may sound alarming but when one considers that billions of acupuncture treatments have been given over many many years, this is actually very reassuring.

Safety compared with other treatments

Acupuncture is often used in painful conditions for which antiinflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs) such as Nurofen (ibuprofen) are used. If you bear in mind that these drugs cause over two and a half thousand deaths every year in the UK alone, then this demonstrates how exceptionally safe acupuncture is in competent hands.