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Side effect of Acupuncture-autonomic dysregulation?


Hi everyone,
I am a orthopedic surgeon. I have a moderate cervical canal stenosis C5-C7 (as noted on MRI), had a disc prolapse in 2016 August which resolved with nonoperative treatment. 10 days ago, after significant amount of travelling, I started having tingling/numbness in both legs below knee and some tingling in right hand. It was a Saturday. I started medrol dose pack, Aleve and by the evening it started improving. By Sun pm, I was feeling quite better with very minimal intermittent symptoms. I had very mild right trapezius pain. BY tuesday, I was thinking of going back next week to work. That tuesday itself, I thought that I should go see acupuncturist to help me get over this completely since she had helped me about 6 months ago with acute back spasm. So, I went tuesday morning. This was my 2nd lifetime acupuncture treatment. She first did a bit of myofascial stretching which I had to stop her since she started to move my neck around like anything. Then we went to her acupuncture treatment where I lay on my belly and she put in 1 needle on top of my head, about 4-6 in neck, then some along paraspinal muscles in TL spine and about 2-3 needles at each ankle. She connected those to electrical thing and asked if I could feel anything. I did not. She cranked it up till I could feel something weird. left me there 45 min. came back. Got up and walked out feeling a bit sore but nothing else. 2 hours later, right hand went cold. I could make it warm by putting it in pocket but it would get cold again. that same night, both my legs and right arm started tingling and then went numb for straight 3 days. I saw my spine surgeon and we are in process of getting new MRI. No motor weakness. over the past 24 hrs, the tingling -numbness have gone from constant to intermittent. But here is something that beats my anatomy. Even right side of my neck upto the ear goes numb on intermittent basis?? I used to be a big believer in alternate medicine and often sent my patient out for these treatments. I initially thought, O well, my neck has just worsened but then why is my neck numb? This numbness-tingling improves in hot weather but when I go in cold rooms, it worsens. Can the acupuncture put autonomic regulation out of whack? Also, I have been having a bit of diarrhoea more of than regular bowel movements? Any thought process/experience would be helpful!
Thank you


So a few general observations. First, I would make certain you are seeing a fully trained Chinese Medicine practitioner - not a physiotherapist, MD, or some other medical specialist who is practicing acupuncture on top of their normal training. Reasons for this should be obvious, but I mention it just because the points you described her using seem not only fairly elementary, but also more of how it is practiced by non Chinese Medicine specialists. So there’s that.

Second, you know you have cervical issues and everything you are describing including numbness in your neck can easily arise from that alone. It’s far more likely that the overdone massage rather than the acupuncture irritated things - if anything did.

That said, acupuncture is generally a somewhat slow process. So on one hand, properly practiced, you nearly never get any of the types of aggressive responses you are describing from a treatment or two, but, generally, it means you have to give it time.

In short, this means, that if you trust the training of the practitioner - give them around 5-9 times before making broad judgements about the effectiveness for you as an individual and certainly for all of your other patients. If you don’t trust your practitioner and/or they cannot explain what they are doing and why a response like this would happen you need to see someone else. See point 1 above.

To answer your basic question, I wouldn’t give a single acupuncture treatment so much power - not only is it functionally impossible to do what you are describing (i.e. reengineer your autonomic nervous system) - it’s just not that powerful to create much of a change from one time. But a misaligned cervical disc certainly can do all of this - which is, of course, the entire reason you are going for treatment. So if you trust your practitioner, tell them your responses, and give them an appropriate amount of time to treat you before deciding what to do next.


It would be highly unlikely that acupuncture itself (when done by a fully trained and licensed acupuncturist) would account for any of your experiences. I personally think 45 minutes of electric stimulation is a little long but again even at the highest settings it would be unusual for it to account for that kind of response. It would depend to some extent on the unit she used and the settings (waveform, voltage, amperage, etc) she used but again regardless of those specifics it would be a pretty unusual response. If anything I would suggest that perhaps whatever stretching she did could have agitated the disk prolapse.


Hello Stephen! I am new to this site and very curious to know more about your background in the field. Can you provide me with an email so I could “pick your brain” a bit? With Appreciation, David Dayanim


Please use our forms to discuss, as that is the very purpose for them. This helps others to benefit from the conversations. If it is something that can’t be openly discussed in a public forum then it is likely that that is a conversation that should be had with your local practitioner.


Chad and Stephen,

Thank you for your help/comments.
I was waiting for my MRI results and discussions with spine surgeon before I posted anything on this. First of all, my symptoms have improved about more than 80% in the last week (after full 10 d of symptoms). I followed my wife’s (integrative physician) advice with anti-oxidative diet/supplements. MRI showed a moderate disc at C5-6 level, which is a lot better than what it looked like 1.5 years ago. I do not need surgery at this point in time.
I think acupuncture did not make it worse but I think the bit of manipulation and my position while I was laying down on the board for continuous 45 min, face down, made it worse. I feel like my face rest was a bit higher. I had a bit of pain/discomfort but not much. I think in that position, with my neck retracted, my disc impinged on the cord just the right way to cause a reperfusion injury when I was done with the session. It could also be the fact that it just got worse randomly at the same point. Regardless, I think, for future, I just have to be stern about the fact that no manipulation etc for anything on my neck.


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