Article Text


Short term reactions to acupuncture – a cross-sectional survey of patient reports
  1. Hugh MacPherson, senior research fellow1,
  2. Kate Thomas, professor2
  1. 1
    Department of Health Sciences, University of York
  2. 2
    School of Healthcare, University of Leeds
  1. hm18{at}


Objective To explore the type and frequency of short term reactions associated with a single acupuncture treatment.

Methods As part of recruitment to a large-scale prospective survey of the safety of acupuncture, 9408 consecutive patients each completed one survey form soon after receiving treatment with acupuncture, and returned it directly to the research centre. On this form, patients were asked to report on a range of possible short term reactions relating to their most recent acupuncture treatment using a checklist of options.

Results At least one short term reaction to acupuncture during or immediately after treatment was reported by 94.6% (CI 94.2 to 95.1) of patients, an average of 1.8 reactions per patient. The most common experiences reported were feeling ‘relaxed’ (79.1%) followed by feeling ‘energised’ (32.7%). A total of 24.4% of patients reported ‘tiredness’ or ‘drowsiness’, with obvious implications for safety if the patient intended to drive after treatment. ‘Negative’ reactions, such as pain and bruising at the site of needling, were reported by 29.7% of patients who were more likely to be female patients (OR 1.58), patients under the age of 40 (OR 1.62), patients who had consulted their GP or hospital specialist beforehand (OR 1.30), patients consulting their acupuncturist for the first time (OR 1.24), and patients treated by an acupuncturist with less than two years’ experience since qualification (OR 1.24). Only 13 patients were unwilling to have acupuncture again as a result of these short term reactions.

Conclusion In this large cross-sectional study, extensive patient reports showed that ‘positive’ reactions to acupuncture treatment were very common. Tiredness, drowsiness and a range of ‘negative’ reactions were also frequently reported. Almost all patients were willing to experience these reactions again.

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