The basis of acupuncture dates back to ancient China and Taoist principles. According to Adrian White’s “Acupuncture: A Scientific Appraisal,” the oldest surviving record of acupuncture is the Yellow Emperor’s “Classic of Internal Medicine,” or “Huang Ti Nei Ching,” which described acupuncture, herbs and other types of Chinese remedies. In comparison to drugs used to treat similar conditions, acupuncture has relatively few side effects and is considered a safe form of therapy. Some patients experience fatigue after an acupuncture session, but this side effect is transitory.
The most common form of acupuncture is manual. During this treatment, a patient typically experiences little feeling until the needle reaches the targeted layer. At that point, a patient may feel numbness, soreness, heaviness or distension. This needle-induced sensation is called “De-Qi,” as put forth by Ying Xia’s “Acupuncture Therapy for Neurological Diseases: A Neurobiological View.” The acupuncturist can lift, rotate or twist the needle to stimulate the acupuncture point and magnify the sensation. Such techniques boost the therapeutic effect, removing blocks to the flow of Qi, or energy.
According to Xia’s book, reported systemic side effects of acupuncture treatment include drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, vertigo and itching around the punctured areas. Other systemic side effects may encompass chest pain, headaches and feelings of faintness and nausea. Local effects include bleeding and pain when the needle is withdrawn. Acupuncturists should warn patients of these side effects and observe their patients’ reactions during and after sessions. Approximately one acupuncture patient in 10 experiences fatigue after a session, as put forth in IIkka Kunnamo’s “Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines.” Patients that grow tired or disoriented during or after a session may exhibit slowed response times. In general, patients may still operate vehicles after acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncturists typically wait two or three days before scheduling another treatment for patients who experience fatigue or other side effects after a session. Fatigue and soreness from acupuncture typically resembles similar post-exercise symptoms. The application of heat, such as a hot water bottle or hot pack, to punctured areas will relieve discomfort. Affected patients can also take hot showers or baths with Epsom salts to relax the body.
Serious Side Effects
If well-trained acupuncturists perform treatment, severe side effects are rare. According to Allen C. Bowling’s “Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis,” reports worldwide indicate that serious complications from acupuncture treatment numbered only 216 over a 20-year period. These incidents include the transmission of HIV or hepatitis, punctured organs and seizures, and are typically the result of negligent or incompetent acupuncturists. General precautions, such as the sterilization of needles, should be taken to prevent such complications.
- “Acupuncture Therapy for Neurological Diseases: A Neurobiological View”; Ying Xia, et al.; 2010
- “Medical Acupuncture in Pregnancy: A Textbook”; Ansgar T. Roemer; 1999
- “Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines”; Ilkka Kunnamo, et al.; 2005
- Acufinder: Are There Risks or Side Effects to Acupuncture?; Diane Joswick, L.Ac., MSOM; 2011
- “Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis”; Allen C. Bowling; 2001
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.