It is only natural to be concerned about the safety of any healing method or medical technique. There is no way to come up with an informed decision on whether or not to consider acupuncture treatment without knowing how safe the treatment is.
Is Acupuncture Safe?
We need to take into consideration three separate areas to answer this question: risk of side effects, risk of malpractice, and risk of infection.
The way one might usually think of side effects when it comes to acupuncture treatment, they quite rarely occur. A patient may sometimes go for acupuncture for treatment of a specific condition and may end up being treated of another seemingly unrelated condition. Times may also happen when the patient’s symptoms get worse for a few days following an acupuncture procedure then get better the next few days. There are patients whose symptoms start to improve a few days after their initial acupuncture treatment. People respond differently to acupuncture and there is no telling whether you’ll experience immediate results or experience nothing at all ever after several months of treatment.
The body’s healing ability may also be different from person to person. As is said before, it is difficult to predict how a person responds to the treatment. For those who have experienced results from acupuncture, their process of recuperation may be as different as the manner their body responds to the treatment For some, it may take a few hours to fully recover, while for others, it may take months or even years. Your acupuncturist will tell you during your consultation about any changes you might expect as you go through a course of treatment.
Risk of Malpractice
In almost all forms of medical treatment, malpractice can occur. While there is a very low risk of malpractice in acupuncture treatment when compared to Western medicine, mistakes can and do occur. Each year, there may be a few cases of collapsed lungs and punctured organs. To put the safety of acupuncture into proper perspective, from the years 1990-2003, there have only been 0.04% of acupuncturists who were charged with a malpractice claim, according to wrongdiagnosis.com. Compare that to the 68.9% of doctors and 13.6% of dentists who have had a malpractice claim against them during the same time period.
Risk of Infection
In industrialized countries such as the United States, acupuncture is almost always conducted with disposable, single-use, sterile acupuncture needles. A course mandated by most states in the Union called the “Clean Needle Technique” needs to be passed by acupuncturists to minimize the likelihood of infection. This course teaches acupuncturists on how to prevent contamination of acupuncture sites and the needles that may result in infection. If this technique is followed, infections caused by the treatment are extremely minimized.
Still, infections from acupuncture needles have been reported; people with a compromised or weak immune system are highly susceptible to this. In order to avoid the likelihood of infections, you need to ask your acupuncturist if he/she always single-use, disposable, sterile, acupuncture needles. You need to also ask if he/she has passed the “Clean Needle Technique” course. If the acupuncturist answers these two questions with an unqualified yes, then expect a treatment that has a virtually 0% risk of infection.
Danielle DeVivo is a board certified and licensed acupuncturist in Saratoga Springs, NY.