Is acupuncture safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners in 1996. The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that they be labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.

Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA in light of the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used. Minor bruising at the site of the insertion and rare cases of transient fainty feeling (4 in 4000 procedures) in people who have a phobia of the needles have been the only problems I have encountered.

However, a few cases of major problems have been reported. Two epidemics of Hepatitis in England and Israel were traced to unscrupulous acupuncturists, who were reusing unsterilized needles. In our office we only use sterilized disposable needles. Development of deep seated infections, puncture of lungs in untrained hands have occurred rarely. One case of death was reported due to puncture of the heart by an individual self administering acupuncture, where the needle passed through a congenital hole in the breast bone.

However, if compared to the potential problems associated with every drugs and surgical procedure, used in our modern medicine, acupuncture is an extremely safe modality.