Archive for March 6th, 2008

Is Acupuncture Safe?

March 6, 2008

Before I left the Mayo Clinic after my fellowship, the center was already into research regarding the efficacy of this ancient chinese remedy called the Acupuncture.  It is one of the widely practiced alternative medicine in the US and therefore the National Institute of Health is also funding research into this area.  It is one alternative therapy that does not entail any intake of drugs and therefore I bend a little and allow the use of this form of therapy among my patients.

Here is an excerpt of what acupuncture is from the National Institutes of Health:


Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine. In TCM, the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang

Yin represents the cold, slow, or passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited, or active principle. According to TCM, health is achieved by maintaining the body in a “balanced state”; disease is due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang. This imbalance leads to blockage in the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians. Qi can be unblocked, according to TCM, by using acupuncture at certain points on the body that connect with these meridians. Sources vary on the number of meridians, with numbers ranging from 14 to 20. One commonly cited source describes meridians as 14 main channels “connecting the body in a weblike interconnecting matrix” of at least 2,000 acupuncture points.


The US FDA admits that this form of therpay is pretty safe with very few complications.  However it is advised that needles be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.  Furthermore, the NIH site cautions that: “Practitioners should use a new set of disposable needles taken from a sealed package for each patient and should swab treatment sites with alcohol or another disinfectant before inserting needles. When not delivered properly, acupuncture can cause serious adverse effects, including infections and punctured organs.”

Whether the therapy really works for osteoarthritis to low back pain to diabetic foot ulcers remain to be seen.  The NIH is already funding research into these areas and their conclusions are worth waiting for!

For now… just like any alternative medicine…it is done at the patient’s will. It is not prescribed or advised but if asked then the doctor may tend to bend a little and allow this therapy to be done if other known modalities fail.

If Anything Else Fails..Try Acupuncture!