Safety of Acupuncture

The National Acupuncture Foundation reports: “The evidence shows that, when performed by trained individuals, acupuncture is an extremely safe procedure and has a remarkably low record of accidents. The only significant danger to the public lies in lack of standards and in performance of acupuncture by improperly or poorly trained individuals.” (NAF Safety Record of Acupuncture, 1995)

Non-medical risks and side effects of acupuncture treatment:

  • Pain during insertions of needles. This is an extremely subjective experience. Most people find acupuncture comfortable after a tiny prick at the time of insertion. A few people find this sensation more painful. The practitioner attempts to make the treatments as painless as possible. In a few cases, somewhat uncomfortable techniques are used to achieve specific results. Your practitioner will discuss this with you.
  • Feelings of numbness, heaviness, electrical sensations, twitching, tingling, aching, soreness, tenderness, sensation of movement. These are common experiences, normal for acupuncture.
  • Marks on the skin, such as red blotches, welts, bruises, or itchiness during or after the acupuncture treatment. This occurs in about 25% of all treatments and is of no cause for concern. These will subside within 8 hours or so.
  • An increase in symptoms the day of, or day after the treatment. This usually occurs at the first treatment, if it is to happen at all, and only in a small number of patients.
  • A feeling of relaxation, sleepiness, fatigue, lethargy the day of or day after the treatment. The relaxation is very common. Sometimes patients feel the need to nap after treatment.
  • The sensation that a needle remains in the body after is has been removed. A common experience.
  • Needles which may be accidentally left in the body. This does not happen often. The needle may be removed by you and disposed of at home in your normal garbage, after being place inside a cardboard or plastic container.
  • Sensations of tenderness or bruising at the site of needling or massage. This will disappear after a day or so. Ice or arnica gel may be used at home, along with common over-the-counter pain medications to hasten recovery.
  • Bruising or hematoma at the site of a needle. This is a result of the needle touching a tiny blood vessel and allowing a small amount of blood to flow into the surrounding area. It usually disappears within a 2-5 day period. Medical treatment is not necessary for this condition. Pressure and ice applied soon after the injury will reduce the extent of the bruise.
  • Bleeding from acupuncture needle sites is not dangerous, and pressure applied in the office will stop it immediately. This occurs in a very small percentage of cases. Patients are usually unaware of it.

Many patients experience at least one side effect listed above during the course of treatment. These are all common and predictable effects and are universal among recipients of acupuncture worldwide. The standard of care by US licensed acupuncturists is among the highest in the world. Research shows that acupuncture performed by a licensed acupuncturist is extremely safe.

Medical risks of acupuncture treatment:

  • Infection at the site of a needle insertion, or systemic infection. Most patients’ immune systems are healthy enough to protect them against minor infections. Sterile, single-use disposable needles also create a situation in which this risk is extremely low. Our practitioners have been trained and certified in Clean Needle Technique according to national standards.
  • Infection by HIV or Hepatitis B or other infectious viruses. Sterile, single-use needles reduce this risk to zero. Research shows that there is no known case of transmission of HIV or Hepatitis B to a patient when treated by a NCCAOM certified acupuncturist. Our practitioners are inoculated against Hepatitis B and are therefore unable to be infected or transmit the virus from themselves to a patient through blood-to-blood contact.
  • Other injuries. It is remotely possible that a needle may injure an organ or tissue. This would include puncture of a lung, kidney, liver, or other organs. These injuries are extremely rare. In fact there is no record of such an injury being caused by an NCCAOM certified practitioner of acupuncture.

About the Needles

Acupuncture needles are medical instruments, approved for use as a medical device by the FDA. The blade may be one quarter inch to 5 inches in length, and are usually around 0.20 mm in thickness. More a filament than a needle, they are nothing like what people who are afraid of acupuncture imagine.

Needles are sterilized by ethylene oxide gas in manufacturing, and are packaged just as any other medical device to remain sterile until opened. In Iowa, Licensed Acupuncturists are required to use single-use sterile disposable needles. Other health practitioners who use acupuncture in Iowa are not held to this standard. Be sure that your practitioner is using disposable needles.

Clean Needle Technique

Every Licensed Acupuncturist is trained in Clean Needle Technique and is examined on this as part of the national board certification given by the NCCAOM. Other practitioners such as chiropractors and medical doctors who provide acupuncture are not required to pass this exam. In ‘clean technique’ we begin with a clean field, clean hands, clean patient skin, and introduce a sterile needle through the skin.