In the last 13 years that I have been in practice I have been reviewing the western medical research about acupuncture. Most of the articles focused on whether or not acupuncture is any more effective than placebo and only a few anecdotal articles have been written about the safety of acupuncture. I was surprised to read a newspaper article claiming that acupuncture is dangerous and could even cause death. This was quite disturbing since my colleagues and I knew that the worst side effect from acupuncture that any of us had ever seen was bruising and muscles soreness. Fortunately in 2012, Claudia Witt, a German physician who has dedicated her career to researching acupuncture responded to the newspaper stating that there was not enough evidence to state that acupuncture was dangerous. The newspaper responded to Dr. Witt by saying that she and her colleagues were “acupuncture advocates.” Dr. Witt decided to settle this issue by researching this topic and presented her findings in 2012 at the Integrative Medicine Symposium.
Dr. Witt and her colleagues looked at large observations studies from the UK and evaluated over 60,000 treatments performed by acupuncture professionals and physicians and there were no serious adverse events reported. Additionally, the investigators looked at over two million consecutive treatments performed in Germany and found side effects from acupuncture in nine percent of the patients who were being treated for chronic pain. Most of the events were minor such as bleeding, hematoma, and pain. Only two pneumothorax were reported which turns out to be one pneumothorax for one million acupuncture treatments and only one of the individuals who suffered from the acupuncture event needed treatment and the other one recovered without any medical treatment. In the end, the investigators concluded that acupuncture is a relatively safe treatment especially when compared to the treatments that are usually used for chronic pain. It was refreshing to find good science to support the observations that my colleagues and I had observed throughout our years in practice.