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Acupuncture Safety and Side Effects


The objective of this review was to determine the incidence of adverse events associated with acupuncture. Feelings of relaxation were reported by as many as 86% of patients. Pneumothorax was rare, occurring only twice in nearly a quarter of a million treatments. Although the incidence of minor adverse events associated with acupuncture may be considerable, serious adverse events are rare. Those responsible for establishing competence in acupuncture should consider how to reduce these risks.
- Am J Med. 2001 Apr 15;110(6):481-5. - Prospective studies of the safety of acupuncture: a systematic review. - Ernst E, White AR.

Numerous case reports of adverse events show that acupuncture is not free of risk, but accurate data from prospective investigations is scarce. Avoidable events included forgotten patients, needles left in patients, cellulitis and moxa burns. The most common minor adverse events were bleeding, needling pain, and aggravation of symptoms; aggravation was followed by resolution of symptoms in 70% of cases. In conclusion, the incidence of adverse events following acupuncture performed by doctors and physiotherapists can be classified as minimal; some avoidable events do occur. Acupuncture seems, in skilled hands, one of the safer forms of medical intervention.
- Acupunct Med. 2001 Dec;19(2):84-92. - Survey of adverse events following acupuncture (SAFA): a prospective study of 32,000 consultations. - White A, Hayhoe S, Hart A, Ernst E; BMAS and AACP. British Medical Acupuncture Society and Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists.

The greater acceptance of acupuncture by healthcare professionals and the public has increased the importance of addressing public concern about its safety. Of particular concern has been the potential for transmission of infectious disease and organ and tissue injury, as well as the training and professional standards of acupuncture practitioners. Types of complications included infections (primarily hepatitis from a few practitioners), and organ, tissue, and nerve injury. Adverse effects included cutaneous disorders, hypotension, fainting, and vomiting. Declines in adverse reports may suggest that recent practices, such as clean needle techniques and more rigorous acupuncturist training requirements, have reduced the risks associated with the procedure. Therefore, acupuncture performed by trained practitioners using clean needle techniques is a generally safe procedure.
- Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Jan-Feb;9(1):72-83. - Is acupuncture safe? A systematic review of case reports. - Lao L, Hamilton GR, Fu J, Berman BM.

Acupuncture Resources



last update: April 2009



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