Is it safe?
Yes. One of the best things about acupuncture is that it generally has no side effects, especially compared with most conventional medications, surgery, etc.
Occasionally the original symptoms might worsen for a short time after the initial treatment. However, this is generally a good sign and is usually followed by significant improvement.
Other general changes in appetite, sleep, bowel or urination patterns, or emotional state may be triggered. These should not cause concern, as they are simply indications that the acupuncture is starting to work. It is quite common with the first one or two treatments to have a sensation of deep relaxation or even mild disorientation immediately following the treatment. These pass within a short time, and never require anything more than a bit of rest to overcome.
National Institutes of Health Consensus Statement on Acupuncture, 1997:
“One of the advantages of acupuncture is that the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same conditions. As an example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and tennis elbow, or epicondylitis, are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial.
“These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) or with steroid injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects but are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments. The evidence supporting these therapies is no better than that for acupuncture.
“In addition, ample clinical experience, supported by some research data, suggests that acupuncture may be a reasonable option for a number of clinical conditions. Examples are postoperative pain and myofascial and low back pain. Examples of disorders for which the research evidence is less convincing but for which there are some positive clinical trials include addiction, stroke rehabilitation, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, and headache. Acupuncture treatment for many conditions such as asthma or addiction should be part of a comprehensive management program.”
1. Safety of Acupuncture in terms of Insurance Malpractice Claims (JAMA 1998): "In an analysis of data from malpractice insurers from 1990 through 1996, Studdert and colleagues found that claims against chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists generally occurred less frequently and usually involved less severe injury than claims against medical doctors." - Phil B. Fontanarosa, MD; George D. Lundberg, MD
2. Frequency and Types of Adverse Events in 55,291 Acupuncture Treatments (Rosted, 1996 & Yamashita, 1998): 64 minor adverse events. 99.8% of these acupuncture treatments were performed without even minor adverse events; "During these 5 years, a total of 76 acupuncturists (13 preceptors and 63 interns) participated in the study, and the total number of acupuncture treatments was 55291... The most frequent adverse event was failure to remove needles after treatment; no sequelae occurred after removal of the needles. The second most common adverse event was dizziness, discomfort, or perspiration probably due to transient hypotension associated with the acupuncture treatment."
The most serious adverse events during acupuncture are pneumothorax and septicemia. "Instruction is given by both lectures and practical training and includes information about anatomically risky depth of insertion and use of aseptic procedure for puncturing... Most important, no serious events such as pneumothorax, spinal lesion, or infection were reported… We may, therefore, reasonably conclude that serious adverse events in acupuncture treatment are
uncommon in the practice of adequately trained acupuncturists.”
3. Acupuncture Safety (White, 2001 & MacPherson, 2001): 2 September 2001 Studies of safety of acupuncture in the British Medical Journal; Details of 43 minor adverse events associated with 34,407 acupuncture treatments; 91 minor events in 31,822 acupuncture treatments; if combined with the other study above = total of 121,520 treatments with 198 minor adverse events (0.16% incidence), and no pnemuothoraxes (in the conclusion they are considered to be "extremely rare").
4. Pregnancy and Acupuncture (Smith, 2002): In treatment for nausea and vomiting, “our findings suggest that no serious adverse effects arise from acupuncture administered in early pregnancy.” 593 subjects.
Although adverse effects can occur if acupuncture is improperly performed, only 10 cases of internal injuries from acupuncture have been reported in the United States from 1965-1997.