Acupuncture side effects are rare if performed by a certified practitioner. Any side effects are mild and are a natural by-product of the procedure.
Professional acupuncturists and physicians who perform medical acupuncture are required to use sterile needles and abide by the guidelines of the state in which they are licensed. Though the FDA regulates the use and labeling of acupuncture needles, there is always the rare possibility of something going wrong if the procedure is done incorrectly.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is performed by inserting needles at exact acupuncture points on the body in order to stimulate the body's natural healing mechanisms. These acupuncture points can also be triggered by using heat or stimulation with electricity. The needles are actually stimulating the nervous system to release chemicals into the brain, the spinal cord, and the muscles.
What are the Risks or Negative Side Effects?
The most common effect of acupuncture is the relaxation and sense of well-being that it brings to the patient. A few minor negative side effects of acupuncture are:
- A short stinging feeling when the needle first makes contact with the skin
- A sensation of warmth, tingling, and slight tenderness as the needle moves toward the trigger point.
- The needle can sometimes cause minor bruises.
Rare serious risks or side effects include:
- A temporary but sharp drop in blood pressure or lower blood pressure accompanied by fatigue. Rarely, this can cause the patient to faint.
- There are rare cases of patients having an allergic reaction to the needles.
- Nerve damage
- Muscle spasms
- Injury to organs if a needle punctures them. [CFP]
In an Australian study published in the Volume 9, No. 10 issue of Archives for Family Medicine, researchers set out to measure the frequency and nature of adverse events occurring as a result of the practice of acupuncture as well as other Chinese herbal medicine alternative therapies. The adverse side effects reported by practitioners included fainting, nausea and vomiting, and increased pain. Though the study concluded that the practice of acupuncture is not completely risk free, it also concluded that these alternate therapies resulted in adverse results less than half the rate of traditional medical practitioners. [AFM]
Are You a Good Candidate?
Adverse reactions to acupuncture are more likely to occur in those that are not good candidates for this alternative therapy. Those with bleeding disorders or those taking blood thinners should not turn to acupuncture as complications can occur from needle insertion. Women who are pregnant should avoid acupuncture as this therapy has the potential to stimulate labor, which could result in a preterm pregnancy. Anyone with a pacemaker should avoid acupuncture as some therapies include a mild, electrical pulse that could interfere with the pacemaker's functioning. [Mayo Clinic]