Is Acupuncture Safe?

Acupuncture is very safe when performed by a well-trained, qualified professional using recognized standards of clean needle technique and sterile needles.

Since 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been classifying acupuncture needles as medical instruments, and requires acupuncturists to use only sterile, disposable needles. Manufacturers of acupuncture needles are required by the FDA to label them for single-use only. Also, acupuncturists will swab the acupuncture sites first with an antiseptic, so there is very little risk of infection. Considering the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used per treatment, relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported. It’s very important to visit a licensed practitioner, however, because poorly sterilized needles and improper clean needle technique can transmit infectious diseases.

Are There Side Effects?

Usually not. Side effects are rare but the most common side effects with acupuncture are minor irritation or slight bruising at the needle site. Acupuncture redirects energy and promotes blood circulation and hormonal releases to activate natural healing. People general report feeling a deep sense of relaxation with treatment. Occasionally after a treatment a person may feel a little lightheaded or tired or may feel elated or invigorated with such sensations often passing in a short time never requiring more than a bit of rest.

Safety in Comparison to Other Treatments

In regards to the relative safety of acupuncture in comparison to other treatments, a consensus panel from the national medical research agency – Nation Institutes of Health (NIH) stated that “adverse side effects of acupuncture are extremely low and often lower than conventional treatments.” They also stated:

the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same condition. For example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and tennis elbow… are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial. These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) or with steroid injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects but are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments.”

Qualified Professional Standards and Training

Accredited acupuncture schools are required by the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM) to provide formal testing in clean needle technique before a student can handle needles in the school clinic during internship. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is the recognized national organization that establishes and promotes recognized standards of competence and safety in acupuncture and Oriental medicine for the protection and benefit of the public. NCCAOM regulates the national board exam for acupuncturists. Licensing in Rhode Island requires a diploma from an accredit school and passing the NCCAOM board exam.

An interesting article in Acupuncture Today containing safety information on acupuncture titled: Surveys Confirm the Safety of Acupuncture comments, “When asked why they use alternative forms of care, one of the most common responses people give is safety.”