Acupuncture for Pain Management

Linda M. Rapson, MD, CAFCI; Robert Banner, MD, CCFP, FRCP(C)


Geriatrics and Aging. 2008;11(2):93-97. 

In This Article


Acupuncture needles are designed to be atraumatic, to slip through tissues. The tip is sharp but rounded, with no cutting edge that can slice tissue, and the needle's fineness of calibre (a commonly used size is 0.25 mm or 31 gauge) makes it difficult to puncture some tissues (Figure 2).

Acupuncture Needles in Place

When considering acupuncture as a potential treatment, there is no contraindication based on risk if the therapist knows the anatomy and a clean needle technique is used (using single-use needles). An analysis by White of 12 prospective studies that surveyed more than a million treatments showed the estimated risk of a serious adverse event with acupuncture to be 0.05 per 10,000 treatments, and 0.55 per 10,000 individual patients.[10] However, while the risk is low, there have been cases of pneumothorax. Additionally, in spite of sterile single-use needles being the norm, there were cases in Toronto in 2002 of transmission of Mycobacterium abscessus via reusable acupuncture needles.[11] The most common adverse effects are occasional bruising, very minor bleeding (particularly among individuals taking acetylsalicylic acid), syncope, and temporary exacerbation of symptoms.


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