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Nerve damage after acupuncture?


#1

Hi! In the end of this august I tried acupuncture for the first time, because of some pain with a small disc bulge at L5/S1 and the SI joint (which started in march for the first time) which gives some neuropathy in the left foot. The first times I really enjoyed the acupuncture and I was supprised to see how calming it was, and my symptomes was much better in a very short time(with alot of core training combined the last months). However, 1 of september, the acupuncturist placed one needle in the lower sacrum Area( which I believe was around Du-2, B33 /B34 or something). And I immiadiatly felt a shock, and my body just jumped on the bench, gives me spasme around this area. I felt like the needle was in the bone or hard tissue. The acupuncturist were able to calm me down and remove the needle. However, since this day I have felt a deep ache and pain in this area, with some nerve pain/ache at small points behind the left thight/foot which werent there before. I am really concerned about this aching pain, and I have tried to wait for this to go away. The acupuncturist says perhaps it hit a blood vessel (it came little blood drops out) or a small skin nerve, and perhaps the movement of my body irriterated the area - but he says it is very strange it can have given this much pain so long…
what is your opinion? Can this have given any permanent nerve damage? It has been 1 month now, how long can it take before the pain caused by the needle will go away? Can it be that the needle tip has broken inside me and cause this pain, or that the needle simply bent during the movement and went deeper in causing some harm around the sacral nerves? Should I request a CT scan or something to check this out?
Sorry for a very long question!
Best regards, Nicole


#2

It is pretty much impossible for an acupuncture needle to penetrate the bone and from my own self-experimentation hitting the bone with a needle is not painful. To be clear though in normal clinical procedure the needles should never touch the bone in the first place as the combination of proper technique and basic anatomy more or less make it a non-issue.

While it is possible to hit the smaller capillaries though that would not account for the prolonged discomfort. It is extremely unlikely the needle tip broke and unless you were moving quite dramatically when the needle was in also highly unlikely the needle bent.

Unless the acupuncturist was using a very thick needle and doing a great deal of manipulation of the needle actual nerve damage is exceedingly unlikely.

You can also read other responses here.


#3

Hi, Stephen, thank you for your answer and opinion on this matter!
I dont think the acupuncturist was manipulating alot, because I immidiatly jumped by spasm and shock of the pain when the needle was inserted. Is this area (around DU-2 / GV-2) known to be very sensitive?
I did move dramatically due to the shock while I was laying on the bench, my body just “jumped” and the sacral/lower back area went into flex. And extension during the spasm), before the acupuncturist calm me down. I have never been afraid of needles, and i didnt know acupuncture could be painful. Is it then possible that the needle tip broke off? I regret that I didnt ask him to check the needle for any damage after! Do acupuncturist always check the needle after taking them out ? Have you seen / heard about breakage of needle tips before? And how can I know for certain that it is or is not a broken needle tip in me? CT, x-ray or mri? Is it dangerous to go into mri with a potential broken needle tip (magnetic)?


#4

I’ve never had a needle break or heard of it happening. Not a single of my teachers or peers has ever had it happen -that reflects centuries (in combined years not linear time…) of experience which in turn reflects the use of millions or even tens of millions needles.

Your acupuncturist should have noticed a broken needle or bent needle.

You’d need to ask a radiologist or other medical doctor what sort of imaging would be appropriate if you decide you want to get something done. As for determining whether there is nerve damage (again I really doubt it) you’d probably need to see a neurologist.

It is possible that when you jumped or jerked in reaction to the needle that shifted the way your bulging disk is oriented or strained some tissue which in turn changed the pressure on the disk. So in effect it was the spastic reaction you had to the needle that would be much more likely to account for your symptoms that the needle itself. That would be my best interpretation of what happened. I’d suggest trying acupuncture again, ironic as that might sound.


#5

Thank you for the answer! Happy to hear that you havent heard of such needle breakage. Although it is rare, I am afraid it could have happend due to all the movements.
I dont think it has something to do with the bulging disc at L5/S1, it is very small and not pressing on any nerves, and The pain I am having due to the acupuncture is not located around this point. The aching pain is around sacral hiatus (to the left side) / the lowest area at the sacrum before the coccyx, with some aching at the tight/leg which werent there before…

I did try acupuncture 2 times after the incident without any problems, but the pain didnt go away… I am too afraid now of trying it again.

I have tried to wait around 1 month without improving of the symptoms. If it hit a nerve, how long time could it take before the pain goes away?

Perhaps i should check with my doctor regarding a potential breakage of the needle tip, and what to do about it. The needle is so thin, I am afraid the needle tip perhaps wont show on any radiographic examinations…? :confused:


#6

At the end of the day you have a bulging disc and this can easily explain all of your symptoms - certainly far more easily than anything to do with the acupuncture. You can do a nerve conduction test to confirm - that along with an xray or MRI.

The truth is back and nerve pain is very commonly treated with acupuncture (particularly well with acupuncture, cupping and tuina which a fully trained acupuncturist should practice). Your other options are lots of roaming around with epidurals, PT and then eventually surgery all of which carry an incredible amount of risk compared to acupuncture.

I do think the spasm you experienced and the tension that invoked was fairly likely to irritate the bulge. Remember that you fairly rarely feel nerve pain at the impingement site but further down the nerve - so through the buttocks, down further in the leg, possibly even in the feet depending on the nerve branch.

One question I do have - when you say “my body just jumped on the bench” - what do you mean? Were you sitting down when you had acupuncture, or lying down? If sitting, why? And is your “acupuncturist” a fully trained Chinese Medicine practitioner - or someone from a different medical specialty (MD, PT, DC, etc.) who practices acupuncture?

My guess is that until you resolve the disc bulge you won’t experience a change in the nerve pain.

And I’m with @stephen on this, I’ve never heard of a needle breaking off inside of someone - the needles are essentially too thin to break. I think if you took one and bent it back and forth and continued that for awhile you would see how unlikely it is. They are just too flexible.

There are some cases in China, but this is from wildly aggressive techniques that a very small subset of practitioners use and usually only with complicated conditions within a hospital setting. In the west, I’ve never heard of this, ever.


#7

Hi, thank you for your answer:) I feel a bit more relaxed about the needle breakage, thank you. I asked the acupuncuturist yersterday, and he claimed as well the needle couldnt have broken. He will do an ultrasould to look for inflammation…My disc bulge is very small, no nerve impingement on MRI, EMG and nervography tests normal (in august). I had some neuropathy sensation in the foot /ankle and little bit up(but not thights and buttocks), which came in june, and the neurologist and orthopeds says it is most likely chemical irritation or an overactive nervesystem , and not sciatica, and it is nothing to operate because the disc bulge is so small and intact. . I have done mri, x ray, dynamic x ray, and beside the small disc bulge every thing is normal.
I do PT regularly, and exercise strenght exercises 4 times per week, and bikram yoga 5 times per week. The acupuncturist is an manual therapaut (bachelor in physio therapy, plus master) as well as an education in acupuncture and chinese med… he have probably worked long before I was born, so I really respect him and dont think it happens so often…
i was laying down on the table, and when the needle came in it hit a nerve (most likely), and My lower back/sacrum “jumped” (or raised in quick speed), and flexion/extension motion (while lying, not sitting). A lot of movements in other terms… I wasnt prepared for a needle to toutch a nerve, so i was in shock… His theory is that when I moved alot, the needle irritated the area around there, but it is strange it last more than 4 weeks.
I dont think the pain area is caused by the bulge, i never hd pain there before, and it is the same area the needle went in and the same pain ever since.
But given that it is caused by irritation of the needle because of the movement, is the pain going away of itself?
Do you have experience with clients who moved so much during the needle when it hit a nerve, and experianced pain after?


#8

I’ve never had a patient (even in acute pain with spasm activity) jump or even feel more than a mild sensation. This is in many ways the difference between fully trained Chinese Medicine practitioners and those of other medical professions. There is no comparison. While there are undoubtedly some practitioners who are deeply trained in both eastern and western medicine and can apply both well - they are very few and far between. The way a PT will needle is all too often very different from the way an acupuncturist will needle - in techniques, needle gauge, and in points chosen.

I could be wrong, but if you read through the numerous posts on here where people were thinking they had some type of nerve damage from “acupuncture” - none of them were fully trained Chinese Medicine practitioners - all were physiotherapists or other health professionals utilizing some aspect of “acupuncture”. I’m not saying that it is impossible, it’s just extremely unlikely with a fully trained acupuncturist - particularly in countries like the US where there is extensive licensure requirements.

If there was some sort of tissue damage - again the real fix would be to actually fix your issues. But generally speaking muscle/nerve irritation can last for 12 weeks or more.


#9

Hi, thank you for your reply. This really is unfortunate, and I hope it hasnt given any permanent damage… the acupuncture needle went in around the sacral hiatus (du-2 / gv-2), when I moved alot. If the needle has went into one for the sacral nerveroots there, will it still be better with time around 12 weeks (as with peripheral nerves), or can it be some permant damage?
I think he uses normal acupuncture needle ( very thin gauge), and acupuncture points (not IMS needling like many psysiotherapists)…


#10

If he was needling Du 2, it would be pretty much impossible to even touch the nerve. Needling in the foramen (points would be UB 32-UB 35) however it is possible with a long enough needle. I still think it is much more likely your symptoms reflect your bulging disk.

Nerve damage from an acupuncture needle is extremely unlikely given the description, even with moving with the needle in. Nerve damage can resolve itself anywhere from 6 months to 2 years time.


#11

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