To many of the Chinese practitioners of acupuncture, who are highly trained and committed to assisting a whole range of ailments with their skills, it must seem appropriate that outside of China acupuncture safety and risks would be an issue.
Acupuncture has been practiced for more than 2,000 years in China and yet, strange as it may seem, it has only in the last twenty years become well known outside the East.
Acupuncture safety and risks are still an issue because, because acupuncture remains a method of treatment which is considered unproven by the medical profession.
The current official view is that the jury is still out on whether acupuncture really does work. This is the case although a large number of reports on it, both in US and elsewhere, have been completed.
Studies have included large studies on the technique carried out in China. But, despite that the medical profession still considers the jury to be out on whether acupuncture has significant beneficial effects.
If it was clear that there were big benefits, as may still still be demonstrated, acupuncture safety and risks would be balanced against the obvious improvements provided. If the benefits were scientifically proven to be large it would be an easy matter to show that it was worthwhile for people to take the treatment, even acknowledging some acupuncture risks exist.
The point being made by some top authorities on alternative medicines, including in December 2010 by Dr. Edzard Ernst, Chair in Supplemental Medicine at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, is that until the ability of acupuncture is clinically proven to reduce pain, and in fact any risk from the procedure is too much risk, and hence the procedure becomes inadvisable as a matter of principle.
This is a very tough test to apply, and one would ask wherever, if a patient was able to avoid taking prescribed pain relievers such as aspirin. paracetamol and codeine after acupuncture, that would not in itself justify the treatment? Even these drugs, which we take without further thought do come with risks to our health, albeit at a very low level.
No medical experts appear to be suggesting that the risk of a negative experience with acupuncture is anything other than very low when the procedures are carried out by well trained practicers. In fact, across a number of studies now completed with large numbers of people in the study groups acupuncture safety is not really a concern in the vast majority of cases, and therefore risks appear to be very low.
A few deaths have occurred within a large sample in a Chinese study, but information is reported as being scanty on the circumstances of death, and may people conclude that the very small percentage of deaths could have been accounted for without attributing significant risk to the treatment. The various other studies show that when practiced by highly trained experts in acupuncture the main risks appear to be about hygiene and the sterilization of the needless used.
Medical errors may occur when needling too deeply, or in the wrong angling of needling insertion. Some problem cases have been identified with needling for back pain alleviation, if the needle is not placed correctly,
Sometimes there has been a practitioner error and / or negligence, but that happens in all walks of life at a very low frequency, and acupuncture is absolutely to be any different.
For individuals considering acupuncture treatment we suggest that your bear in mind the current medical profession's official view that the technique is unproven for the reduction of pain until studies show otherwise.
It is also possible that if you do not obtain medical advice on your complaint, before obtaining acupuncture treatment, an underlying cause may not be diagnosed, so always get medical advice first.
The decision must be yours, and the risk which you decide is worthy should be balanced by the benefits which you perceive you will receive from the treatment. You need to weigh up the balance of benefit against risk for yourself. It is your decision.
The author is not mediated trained. This article is not medical advice. Alternative treatment techniques like acupuncture may never on any occasion replace proper consultation with an appropriately qualified medical professional.