Background Patients are attracted to acupuncture partly by its reputation for having low risks. The safety of acupuncture should be established by positive evidence.
Methods Two prospective surveys were conducted among different groups of professionals in the UK, including doctors, physiotherapists and practitioners primarily trained in acupuncture. Participants monitored adverse events over a defined period of time, and reported minor and significant events on purpose designed forms.
Results A total of 652 acupuncturists reported 6733 adverse reactions including tiredness in 66 229 patients, an adverse event rate of 10.2%. The most common events were tiredness (3%) bleeding or bruising (3%), aggravation of symptoms (2%) and pain at the needling site (1%). There were no serious adverse events. A total of 86 (0.1%) of the treatments was associated with an event that the practitioner judged to be significant though without persistent consequences for the patient’s health.
Conclusion The risks associated with acupuncture can be classified as negligible, and acupuncture is a very safe treatment in the hands of competent practitioners.
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