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Worsening of symptoms following acupuncture for whiplash


I suffered a whiplash injury about 18 months ago and after unsucessful physio and chiropractic treatment decided to give acupuncture a go. Ongoing sysmptoms are burning, tingling, stiffness which varies in intensity and level of pain in the left side of my neck to middle. Symptoms are worse when sitting for long periods, excercising, driving, studying, reading.

I have had two acupuncture treatments now, seven days between them and had the second treatment last wednesday. The burning pain has become much worse, and has not levelled off at all. Rather than intermittent pains, it is now much more constant and I can feel it almost 24/7.. it even feels like it is spreading to my shoulders and upper back (not experienced this before). The whole left side of my neck feels solid and inflamed.

From what I have read, it is normal for intial worsening of symptoms, but this should improve after a few days, but i have felt no improvement at all, it has gotten so much worse, I am having to resort back to pain killers and bengay gels.

Should I be concernd about the treatment? Is it normal for this to happen? Should I continue with treatments? I know it is early days, but why should it get worse? I feel like I am re experiencing the anxiety and sensations felt in the first weeks following the accident, and I don't want to put my body through this again unless I can be hopeful about a positive outcome.

I would really appreciate any advice or insight!


I&#39ve answered a few other questions similar to this before, but in general the whole it gets worse before it gets better statement is far overused. While that can happen it is certainly not the norm and you shouldn&#39t be having incredibly aggravated pain from the treatment. While you don&#39t mention anything the acupuncturist is doing or what their style or techniques are like it is safe to say that you should either discuss this response openly with them or find a different practitioner. This is no judgement on your current practitioner as some people simply respond differently to different techniques. You will want a practitioner, ideally (in my opinion), who also does tuina (which is chinese medical massage or some form of bodywork) and cupping/guasha which can be immediately helpful for your symptoms. Worsening of symptoms is usually from too heavy stimulation of the needles in cases where the nerves are already overstimulated, excessive use of electro acupuncture, or incorrect treatment protocols overall.


As a qualified nurse and acupuncturist who is also recovering from a whiplash injury, I can come at this problem from more than one angle! You have my sympathies, as I am finding that this is not an easy condition to treat or live with.

Firstly, there are many in fields as diverse as neurosurgery, osteopathy, counselling, acupuncture...who believe strongly that physiotherapy is counter-productive and should be avoided, particularly in the early/acute phases of whiplash: this is sometimes said of osteopathy or chiropractic, too. It&#39s felt that the usual techniques are likley to irritate already hypersensitive tissues, thereby aggravating and prolonging response to stimulii, which is the major problem in whiplash. Provided you have been checked out for bony injury (you should by now have had at least an Xray, and hopefully an fMRI scan to exclude this) the best course of acton is regular, gentle treatments that aim to reduce sensitivity and relax the nerve/muscle spasm that creates so many problems.

As an acupuncturist my area of expertise is in fertility/maternity/postnatal/gynae, so I rarely treat patients with whiplash or similar injuries. However, my regular acupuncturist is well-versed in the treatment. So, make sure your practitioner has plenty of experience, and has at least one modality available to them - that is, do they practice TCM and 5-element, or just the one? Can they prescribe herbs; do they do tuina or shiatsu? Some people set up as acupuncturists with only a rudimentary training therefore cannot diagnose and treat complex cases. Any proper acupuncturist will not be offended at your asking them about their expertise and qualifications, nor mind suggesting suitably experienced people to you. After all, it&#39s YOUR interests we are concerned with. I have found that gentle work on SI, TH and GB makes a difference, albeit over a series of weeks, and at regular two week intervals. Also, I am prescribed Xiao Yao Wan (herb) to help relax the muscles. Giovanni Maciocia has extensive suggestions re: treatment but, within the context of a proper diagnosis. Again, your chosen practitioner should know who he is!

Secondly, have you considered cranial osteopathy? This is very very gentle, and is excellent at releasing embodied tension in a non-traumatic way. It is commonly used for newborns who have had traumatic deliveries so, if it&#39s gentle enough for a baby, it&#39s gentle enough for you!

Third, do some simple re-framing exercises (psychologically speaking). I have found it very dispiriting, frustrating and almost depressing if I experience a relapse, and learning to view the days when I can&#39t function as beneficial is a work in progress - but getting there!

I hope you are being monitored by your insurance company and a solicitor in all this. You need to afford the best treatment possible, as whiplash is notorious for causing long-term damage if not cared for in good time. I agree that treatment should not make things worse, although sometimes fatigue or weariness is normal for 12 hours or so after. The effort of holding your head up on a poorly neck and shoulders can be exhausting and, when relieved, the relaxation effect is quite powerful. But, that&#39s a good after-effect. Your physical symptoms should not be heightened.

Good luck! I do, really, know how you feel ;-)


Sorry about the spelling mistakes - put it down to enthusiasm and empathy!! x

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