Alternative Medicine

Is Acupuncture Safe?

| by Kate Wharmby Seldman

Plenty of people swear by acupuncture as a treatment for pain, stress or more serious physical problems. But is it dangerous? Most evidence points to no. However, there are some issues worth looking out for if you’re going to try this alternative therapy.

Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine, and involves inserting needles into the skin at particular points on the body, and manipulating them with the hands or with gentle electrical currents. Practitioners say this can alter the body’s qi, or life energy, and help relieve medical complaints ranging from colds to liver problems. The body is said to contain 400 acupuncture points, which are linked by 20 meridians, or channels through which qi flows. Acupuncture clears blockages in these meridians and lets the qi flow to all areas of the body, purportedly healing it.

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While most traditional medical doctors believe acupuncture isn’t an effective treatment, clinical trials have been conducted which indicate that acupuncture can assist in pain relief.

Like any medical or alternative practice, acupuncture is not without its risks, but all evidence indicates that the dangers of this medical discipline are minor. The most common risk is infection at the injection site or sites, especially if the practitioner doesn’t use clean needles. It’s wise to ask your acupuncturist if he or she uses disposable needles, which are the safest kind when it comes to limiting the spread of infection. There have been reports of diseases like hepatitis being transmitted via dirty needles.

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Acupuncture can be hazardous for patients who have bleeding disorders or are taking steroids: in the former case, patients may bleed profusely from a small needle puncture wound, while in the latter, the patient’s immune system may be compromised and less equipped to fight needle-borne infections.

If a needle goes too deep into the body, it could damage a vital organ like a lung or a kidney. Needles that penetrate too far into the base of the skull could cause strokes or brain damage. Pain or numbness can also result from accidental puncture of a nerve.

It’s important to make sure you choose a licensed acupuncturist. American acupuncturists must receive certification in medical acupuncture from the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. Most states require that an acupuncturist has achieved a master’s degree in acupuncture. When choosing an acupuncturist, look for the letters L.Ac.(Licensed Acupuncturist), M.Ac. (Master's in Acupuncture), M.S.Ac. (Master's of Science in Acupuncture), M.S.O.M. (Master's of Science in Oriental Medicine), and M.A.O.M. (Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine). Some states also grant a Dipl.Ac (Diplomate of Acupuncture), which means that the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine has granted the acupuncturist board certification.

Originally published on GrannyMed