What are the negative side effects of acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that is often used to treat stiffness and pain. It involves the use of very thin needles to puncture the skin. The needles are placed at specific points around the body depending on the condition that is being treated. With acupuncture, there are some important risks that you should be aware of prior to receiving treatment.

One such risk is that the needles can hit another tissue other than muscle. In some cases, the needles may hit a blood vessel, such as a vein or artery (very rare), or even a nerve. If a needle hits a vein, you will likely feel a pinching sensation, and there will be some bleeding. Your therapist will provide pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding, once the needle is removed. You may have a bruise after and/or more pain.

If a needle hits an artery, there will be a lot of pain and a very significant amount of bleeding and bruising. It may take a few minutes of pressure to the wound before the bleeding stops. Note that this is very rare, as arteries are deeper within the body and thicker than veins, which makes them less likely to be pierced.

Furthermore, only certain acupuncture points are near blood vessels and nerves, while the majority of them will not create a significant risk. If an acupuncture needle hits a nerve, you will likely feel a painful burning or tingling sensation. Once the needle is removed that sensation should go away, but it can linger depending on how much the needle has impacted the nerve. Fortunately, our body’s nerves and blood vessels have the ability to heal once they’ve been injured.

Acupuncture can also pose other risks, and caution should be taken if you have any bleeding conditions or disorders, or if you’re currently pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

Acupuncture can also have significant impacts on both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. This means that in some cases acupuncture can trigger a fight or flight response, while in others it can trigger a rest and digest response. This may manifest as elevated heart rate and blood pressure for those with a fight or flight response, and reduced heart rate and blood pressure for those with a rest and digest response.


What are the disadvantages of acupuncture?

Acupuncture can be helpful for many different musculoskeletal conditions. In general, acupuncture can be helpful for pain and stiffness around muscles and joints. As a result, acupuncture may help a variety of conditions that cause symptoms of pain and stiffness. That being said, it’s important to note that acupuncture is mainly a technique for symptom relief. It does not address the root cause or issue you may be having. It is also a passive technique, which means it’s something that is done to you. As a result, it doesn’t allow you to have control over your situation without a healthcare provider around to treat you.

Acupuncture can be a great treatment tool, but should not be the only treatment used for your condition. It’s valuable to also include more active treatments, such as exercise, as those can help you regain your independence and take control of your situation. Furthermore, active treatments like exercise will help address the root cause of your condition and can help reduce the likelihood of your symptoms returning in the future.


How quickly does acupuncture work?

The effects of acupuncture can vary significantly depending on the person and their specific injury. Some individuals get immediate relief from acupuncture, while others may experience relief later on after the appointment. The length of time relief lasts for also varies greatly. In some cases, acupuncture treatment may provide relief for multiple days, while in others it may only provide relief for a few hours.

Unfortunately, some individuals won’t experience any relief from acupuncture, and others may even experience pain. It’s unrealistic to pre-determine who will have a positive effect from acupuncture. So, if you’re comfortable with needles and looking for relief from pain and stiffness related to an injury, it can be worthwhile to try acupuncture. As always, be sure to discuss acupuncture with your healthcare provider to see if it’s appropriate for you.



Still not sure what to expect with acupuncture? Call us at 519-895-2020, or use our online booking tool on www.strivept.ca to book an appointment with one of our knowledgeable physiotherapists, and they will be sure to help you understand your injury. 



Liam Newlands

Physiotherapist at Strive Physiotherapy and Performance

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