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Severe worsening of "back pain" symptoms after acupuncture


Hi. This is my first time on the board and I was hoping maybe someone could shed some light on my experience. I would appreciate almost any rational theory whatsoever at this point.

Incredibly Shortened But Still Long Version of History:

I've been stuck in the Workers Comp Nightmare Carousel for about 16 months now being handed off from disinterested party to disinterested party who all insist on treating me for "lower back pain" despite the onset of injury and the symptoms being elsewhere. I basically pulled something under my left shoulder blade... my whole left side tightened and swelled under the ribs/above the hip and I haven't been able to walk more than half a block since without the same thing happening with tremendous pain in those areas. I was 36-years-old at the time and in good health, physically active and strong.

But Anyway.

When I was about 2 1/2 months into the injury and feeling maybe 75% better.... I had started to walk upwards of a mile without pain and was up and down hills, stairs, etc....... I was sent for acupuncture treatments. YAY I thought! I'd had many pleasurable experiences with it in the past administered primarily for general well-being and presumed this would be the icing on my cake of healing.


PhD in Chinese Medicine Man used the "long needles" and inserted them directly into the muscles of my lower and mid-back. I questioned whether there should be so much PAIN as they went in and I was assured that it was normal due to injury. (It wasn't really until he started pressure and poking around that I'd even realized that these muscles near my spine were sore. As I said, my symptoms were elsewhere). I was then connected to electricity and these poor muscles of mine were forcibly contracted for a period of 20 minutes. I was in great pain but was again assured that it would subside and I would be the better for it.

By that night my symptoms were far more severe than they'd been even in the initial injury. I was literally laughing out loud from the pain it was so overwhelming/confusing and a different quality of pain than I'd ever experienced. A couple of days later my back went into such spasms that my legs were uncontrollably kicking and my whole body was shaking and it took all the concentration I could muster (thank you meditation background!) and someone laying on top of me and almost AN HOUR to get it to stop. I couldn't even hold a cup of water to try and take a sip I was shaking so bad. I was even beginning to fear a heart attack my body was in such duress.

It is now a full year since that treatment and I'm still struggling with walking/pain/mobility, etc. The progress that I'd made prior to that visit has never returned. Without many people taking me seriously, chiropractic not helping, and being basically forced into situations by circumstance, I was again prescribed acupuncture. I agreed with the condition that we'd only do what I felt comfortable with, (again harkening back to my fond memories of positive outcomes). My first couple of appointments we did legs only. No big deal. The third appointment I was persuaded to return the needles to my back but only the small needles and Never Again Electricity. And obviously a different practioner. I felt pain with the needles in my back but when I relaxed a bit more it subsided so I trusted in it and followed through with the session.

By the time I got home I was barely able to lift my left leg from the pain. My back was extremely hot and within an hour my side was again on fire with pain and I can barely get around. The acupuncturist felt my back today and says she can see no signs that anything had happened or was changed but my pain hasn't been this bad in months. My mobility has gone from about 60%, if i was careful, to about 20%. I basically had the same reaction as before except this time I immediately hit the floor with ice packs and kept it from spiraling out of control. That and the lack of electric current coarsing through me.

SO.......... basically everyone is either confused or in total disbelief. I've yet to find anyone who can tell me what is going on that would make the muscles (nerves?) react this way to acupuncture. Obviously whatever took place or was triggered by that original appointment has not gone away and/or was reignited with this latest. Also, ever since the original acupuncture I have been unable to take a hot bath without the area swelling. It takes about 3 days or so for that swelling to subside. When I walk and it tightens and swells it takes about 10 days to 2 weeks to return to pre-push-it state.

I have a fresh MRI which reveals an annular tear, though much lower than the areas of acupuncture, and a "broad-based bulge which in conjunction with facet hypertrophy and ligamentum flava laxity produces minimal bilateral neural foraminal narrowing and no central canal narrowing" at the areas in question. if that helps.

I know, right?

If you've made it this far, bless you. If you have some idea what may or may not be happening physiologically, I'll owe you a ton of gratitude. If only for peace of mind. Try explaining to a doctor, let alone an insurance company, that acupuncture has made you worse. The ridicule alone is enough to drive you madddd.

Many Thanks for the time invested and I look forward to anything you may have to offer.

Be well,


UPDATE: I was told on another board that my experience is "unheard of" so for clarification: I don't mean to imply that acupuncture alone has caused my condition, only that it took an apparent recovery from injury and turned it into something that just won't fully heal. And then to have the same reaction when acupuncture was attempted a full year later must suggest that something's being tapped that doesn't want to be tapped or something is in some state where a needle is highly objectionable. (a nerve? over-stimulation of injured muscle destroyed something?) Sorry to make this even longer. I just don't want to come off as some "skeptic" or lawsuit-happy injured guy. I simply want to walk again and live a normal life. thanks.

Pain during and after treatment

In such a unique and relatively complicated set of events it is difficult to offer much other than speculation without having seen you myself - but here is what I can say. First, acupuncture improperly or too strongly done can hurt you and there are reported and studied cases of nerve damage, muscle tears, organ punctures, etc. (mostly in China where these stronger techniques are more common). Strong techniques combined with electro-acupuncture can increase these risks. There is a myth to some degree in the acupuncture community and some "old-style" practitioners who stick strongly to it that acupuncture has to hurt to be effective - this is entirely incorrect. If the acupuncturist caused the damage, the type of damage that would have been done can be difficult to heal particularly if it was damage to the nerves (which may or may not fully repair - ever).

Your next response to the follow up acupuncture with a different practitioner is more interesting and I don't really have a good explanation for that. There are certainly times and places where peoples bodies want to hold certain patterns and they have unexpected reactions to the treatments. Normally these pass with or without the practitioner having to change anything in their point selection and/or adjunctive techniques (cupping, etc.). While acupuncture is generally very helpful for cases like yours (both before and after the initial over treatment), there are tremendous differences in skill levels, techniques, personalities, etc. amongst practitioners so your results may vary until you find the right mix. Personally I would probably try a good massage therapist with training in neuromuscular therapy (NMT) and trigger point therapy and look for an acupuncturist who practices Japanese acupuncture or at the very least a TCM one that has extensive experience with nerve damage (neuropathy patients, working with damage from surgeries, etc.).


I appreciate your perspective. It's the most thoughtful response I've had yet from anyone either online or in person. The problem, as you can imagine, is that I've yet to find anyone who won't simply shrug it off as complete lunacy or an academy award winning performance. After nearly 16 months of what I firmly believe is a psoas issue I've yet to find anyone willing to be curious or alter their treatments even slightly from what's already been tried and tried. If it's different from the most common scenerio or runs counter to their first instinct I may as well have two heads. But now I'm just complaining.

The first practioner was definitely of the old-school chinese variety. Pain = Good. The person I'm seeing now seems well-intentioned but will only do specifically what she's told to do by the workers compensation insurance people (down to only applying needles to the "assigned areas". what!?) who have no clue what they're dealing with or any interest in helping. Oh boy I'm complaining again. My apologies.

Thanks for the input.


Psoas is directly related to Kidneys.

I think you should know your own body.

If you had nerve injury, your best bet is homeopathy, your sx would determine the remedy required.


Dear Jeff

I think it is now 4 + years later but am hoping you and/or others will see this post. I am sitting at the deathbed of my 87 year old mother. She had suffered from extreme hip pain which made movement very challenging. After over a year of this it was decided to try acupuncture. She had two days of treatment, and was fine the next day. That night her hip pain increased dramatically, she was in agony, excruciating - to the point that even Oxycodone did not work and she was given opiates. The opiates were quadruped within a day (other things, including an infection, dehydration, and pneumonia occurred) and she is now dying.

I do not blame the acupuncture for her death. But it seems clear that it triggered a level of agonizing pain that nobody anticipated - which triggered a series of events which resulted in her dying. It is high time that this aspect of acupuncture (which I have long trusted and used, successfully, for general health) is studied, written about, and dealt with by practitioners. This kind of harm should become a recognized risk - and the risk factors need to be identified.



First, I am sorry to hear of your mothers trouble. Without knowing your mother personally and having treated her myself all I can add is speculation. Particularly without knowing all the points used and other techniques, if any, that were done. Along with my speculation I will add the caveat that I am in no way being defensive of the field of acupuncture even though my response could be taken that way. My only purpose in responding at all is to avoid people being unnecessarily scared of appropriate treatment for them from a post like yours.

I don&#39t doubt that in a completely complicated long term chronic case like your mothers that someone could make it worse, complications, however, are clinically and statistically extremely unlikely. When you say "it seems clear that it [acupuncture] triggered a level of agonizing pain" right after "She had two days of treatment, and was fine the next day. That night her hip pain increased dramatically, she was in agony, excruciating - to the point that even Oxycodone did not work and she was given opiates. " With someone as fragile is her, I really doubt you can truly make a "it seems clear" statement, particularly after a year plus long battle with pain and drug use. Nothing about this seems clear to me at all. Someone in that state just getting on and off the treatment table could cause an enormous amount of problems. So could feeling better and then over rotating or over using the joint. Also anything including muscle relaxers, pain killers, etc. can enable movement that wouldn&#39t be allowed by the tension controls of the body and pain signals.

If you read enough of my posts, I&#39m generally quite critical of many techniques utilized by professionals in my field, so I&#39m not being defensive of acupuncture. I&#39m also the first to jump in an say, yes I think what someone did to you was wrong. That said, there is no evidence that you have presented, and no reasonable clinical evidence, to support what you are implying. Acupuncture is used worldwide with millions of patients for all types of conditions, but pain is very, very commonly treated. There are well over 700 published studies for acupuncture related to hip/back pain treatment and none that I am aware of showed any complications. Some didn&#39t show great responses, but that is expected to appropriate degrees based on the aims of the study. But as far as true complications certainly my personal clinical work and these hundreds of studies do not indicate a potential for reactions like this.

Was the person your mother saw a fully trained and licensed acupuncturist, or some other health professional (PT, MD, etc.) who also "does acupuncture"? This can make a very serious difference. There are many reports of tissue damage, etc. with "dry needling" techniques, for example, that some PT&#39s are doing, with some calling it "acupuncture". These are very, very different things.


I found this post very interesting. Prior to becoming an Acupuncturist I was an RN for 30 years mostly working with Surgical and Orthopedic patients. My first thought was the Opiates may reduce the level of pain but they can also depress respirations which may have triggered the pneumonia.

Whenever I work on someone , espcially the elderly with a joint problem I always tell them if it is structural Acupuncture may not bring releif. They may actually require surgery than use the Acupuncture to help regain mobility. I had a similiar patient , elderly woman with Hip pain. I treated her for a year and eased her hip pain. Than after one treatment which I did not alter by basic treatment she called to tell me she had excruitiating hip pain. I told her to go to her orthopedic MD as I felt it was probably time she had her surgery. She went to her orthopedic and was being worked up for Hip replacement.Surgery.

On the other side of it I have sucessfully releived pain of many patients both elderly and young for joint pain. Acupuncture can help the inflammation but if it is bone on bone it is best if they see an orthopedic surgeon. Also as we ease their pain patients tend to do more things and end up injuring themselves. I remember in school we were told"Pain is our teacher" If it is a matter of inflammation and helping them to strengthen the muscles around the joint that is one thing as long as there is enough tissue ie tendons ligaments and muscles to work with.


I recently had a similar experience. I had been going to this accupuncturist for3 yearsnow. It helped with depression. But I had been going for the last 6 months for a back injury. The symptoms were supposedly that of what the acupuncturist called a sciatica problem. In the last session he placed a needle that made me jump in pain. He took it out and did not touch that area again. The pain continued but evolved into a burning sensation with extreme pain thereafter. I did not relate to the acupuncture session till now. I have been laying on my back 3 weeks now to see if whatever is going on will heal. I'm seeing a pain management doctor and an MRI is next on the list. Could accupuncture made my back pain excalate to excrutiating pain like this?? I wonder if this sounds like nerve damage I can recover from. Any ideas? Gratefully looking for an answer and hope... Elizabeth G.


I came across this site in an effort to find out what happened to my body post accupuncture. I had an intensive accupuncture session as I suffer from chronic lower back pain. For the last two days I have felt excruciating pain in the area treated and am virtually bed bound. I wish with all my heart that I had done some research before the treatment as it has left me in the worst pain I have ever experienced. I just hope that perhaps others will research it better than I did and not go feet first into such an intensive session in the beginning. I am hoping that the pain will subside as the thoughts of dealing with this level of agony is unbearable.


Hello Joey,

First, I&#39m sorry to hear about your experiences with acupuncture. I do have a few questions, however, as these types of responses truly intrigue me. I&#39ve been in practice quite some time and in both my professional practice, my years of watching other masters and in close communications with my colleagues, I&#39ve never seen anything like these responses.

First, is the person you saw a fully trained and licensed acupuncturist? i.e. a doctor of Chinese Medicine? or were they an MD, physio, PT, DC or some other professional, practicing "acupuncture"?

Second, what do you mean by intensive session? I&#39ve never heard of anything along the lines - nor of any patient determining that there is such a thing as mild and "intensive" acupuncture....

Finally, have you been "bed bound" in this way before with your back pain? before acupuncture that is - at any point? In other words, generally speaking when properly done acupuncture is not a one off treatment (good or bad responses) - in fact in lots of cases not much happens until you have a few treatments. I&#39m curious how bad your pain was at times before you ever had acupuncture?


Hello Chad, Many thanks for your response. Naively, I did not check the practioners&#39s credentials which I realise belatedly I should have. The practioners was Chnese and told me he could treat my lower back pain which I have had for around 4 years. He said this would be intensive treatment and I&#39m ashamed to admit I did not do my homework as when one is in constant, chronic pain, a supposed treatment that could alleviate some of the pain was the draw for me. So here I am in the worst pain of my life and I was bed bound today which is depressing as I have a young Son to look after. I was wondering if you could perhaps give an assessment on the facts I have given and perhaps enlighten me if this pain would subside. I understand you cannot give absolute medical advice but was eager to know if this excrutating pain will abate. Many thanks and best regards, to you, Chad.


I would read my reply to another poster from the UK who had acupuncture done by a non-acupuncturist. In short, it says pain is commonly treated (and generally easily), you probably have tissue damage (fixable, but damage nonetheless) by improper technique (and incidentally, being Chinese does not mean they are a properly trained acupuncturist or that even remotely know what they are doing, just fyi...) , and that you should seek out and consult with a fully trained acupuncturist. The UK is difficult because almost anyone can do "acupuncture" there. I would start by searching for the british acupuncture council and see if there are any practitioners listed with them in your area.


Good day to you, Chad, Many thanks for your response. I will certainly absorb all you&#39ve had to say and sincerely appreciate your thoughts on my situation. I have to say that amongst all the websites I searched in help regarding my issue, this was the one that stood out as clear, simple and very helpful and I want to thank you for being such a good person in helping people without having to hand over credit card details.Best regards, to you. Jo


As a TCM acupuncturist I have treated many patients who came for lower back pain. None have experienced the problems which I have read about in this post.

It is extremely difficult to comment on the actions of other acupuncturists based on information (however detailed) given out in posts so I have nothing to add to the comments and replies already given. However, it does appear that many people are confused about acupuncture treatment. Many western medicine practitioner, osteopaths, physiotherapists and others linked with western medicine offer &#39acupuncture&#39 as an adjunct to their other regular treatments. Generally such treatments are based on trigger points or Ashi points (where the point that is painful is needled). As a TCM acupuncturist I consider such treatment as &#39dry needling&#39 and not &#39proper&#39 acupuncture.

I would encourage any readers who find themselves interested in the conditions described on this website and in this particular post to search out a professional acupuncturist who is a member of a recognised acupuncture organisation (in the UK the British Acupuncture Council is the largest). Doing so will ensure that the practitioner they visit will have been properly trained and has to comply with stringent regulations.

Any reader will please note that I am only referring to what happens in the UK - I have very little knowledge of other countries and their regulations in this respect.


Hi I know that I'm joining 7 years late! But I wanted to know how your are?

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