Safe and Effective
-- If you wonder whether acupuncture is safe, you can relax, according
to a review of medical literature from around the world.
studies have been published since 1956 detailing adverse reactions
or problems with acupuncture, the ancient Asian needle therapy
used to treat everything from dull pain to arthritis.
how many acupuncture-related problems have been reported in the
last half century, Dr. Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary
medicine at England's University of Exeter, and a colleague examined
all available medical literature on the subject -- nine surveys
in 10 articles, including five from Europe and four from the Far
these nine surveys and found there were relatively few adverse
effects reported among one-quarter of a million subjects reviewed
in those studies," Ernst says.
1 percent to 45 percent of patients reported needle pain and 2
percent to 41 percent reported a little bleeding, Ernst says.
While a few patients reported feeling faint, 86 percent said they
had a deep sense of relaxation after treatment. Forty-one percent
reported feeling tired after treatment. No study mentioned infection
or transmission of disease.
Only two studies
noted serious problems: two cases of lung collapse and two cases
of a needle breaking, requiring surgical removal, Ernst says.
And one patient suffered a burn after moxibustion, a heat application
treatment done at needle insertion points.
he was surprised to find only nine studies on the subject. "One
would have thought that a treatment that started before the invention
of science would have received a lot more attention," he says.
were published in the April 15 issue of The American Journal
of side effects show that acupuncture works, says Dr. Marc Micozzi,
editor of the textbook Fundamentals of Complementary Alternative
Medicine and executive director of the College of Physicians
of Philadelphia. He says, "People need to understand that part
of taking alternative medicine seriously is to take a look at
and understand the side effects."
The fact that
acupuncture causes tiredness or relaxation is particularly interesting,
Micozzi says. "It shows that the treatment is working in those
areas. Curiously, a lot of patients occasionally report agitation,
though Ernst's study did not show examples of that."
was first mentioned in a Chinese medical test written in the 2nd
century B.C. It cited the use of long, thin needles to pierce
the skin to create a "harmonious balance" within the body.
say acupuncture produces a range of benefits, from easing pain
to curing a variety of gastrointestinal or metabolic disorders.
In North America,
Ernst says acupuncture mainly is used to relieve pain, and the
treatment can be effective.
two hypotheses: one that acupuncture stimulates endorphins in
the brain, which are natural painkillers. The other is related
to pain and its communication mechanisms in the nervous system.
Acupuncture may stimulate nerve fibers, causing them to fire,
thus blocking transmission of the pain impulse in the spinal cord,"
more research is needed. "While acupuncture is safe when compared
to other treatments, that doesn't mean you can assume anything.
We need more studies or observations on a constant basis."
he cites anecdotal reports of punctures of the kidney, bladder
and spinal medulla, although not many. None of those reports turned
up in his review of the medical literature, he says.
he says he's heard reports of dirty needles causing skin rashes,
irritations or infections. And outbreaks of hepatitis B documented
in Europe and the United States have been traced to single practitioners
reusing unsterilized needles, Ernst says.
pitfall for acupuncture is missing an important diagnosis of disease
by skipping a visit to your doctor, says Bruce Dubin, dean of
Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine.
I have heard are about someone who would seek a complementary
alternative practitioner and forgo a standard practitioner who
practices western medicine," says Dubin. Delayed diagnosis could
be a problem, he says.
"In the hands
of a trained professional, acupuncture is very safe and effective.
Like everything else, acupuncture is not effective for everything.
Certainly, it has demonstrated itself as effective for pain that
does not respond well to even high doses of medication or chronic
pain," "Dubin says.
For more information
on acupuncture, see Acupuncture.com
American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.
Reference Source 101