Acupuncture therapies have a relative risk that is low. The reporting of adverse events in clinical trials as well as safety surveys has helped establish a positive safety record for acupuncture needling in the West. Patients may experience minor side effects such as feeling relaxed, elated, tired, or having point sensation or itching etc. or slight bleeding and hematoma on needle withdrawal.
Yet deaths have resulted from acupuncture treatment as well as serious infections, organ punctures and other complications clarifying that acupuncture carries a risk of harm. Many acupuncture professionals are not aware of the published cases of acupuncture harms because they may not read the medical literature in general and because cases of harm are not necessarily reported by or back to the practitioner who caused them. They appear in medical journals often as emergency department cases and acupuncture therapy is represented as risky and irresponsible. What is the truth?
Acupuncturists occupy a mythical comfort zone that if there is potential risk of harms, harms will not likely be caused by them. But the risk of harms exists every day in every practice. A practitioner must first know what the real risks are, what has been reported. This module covers systematic reviews on safety as well as an overview of case reports of harms (infections, traumatic lesions to organ, vessel, nerve tissue, bleeding and ‘curious adverse events’) attributed to acupuncture needling.