Acupuncture and Risk

The most generous view of acupuncture is that it doesn’t work. Steve Novella at Science Based Medicine explains that studies have not shown and benefits from the practice.

The best controlled studies show a clear pattern, with acupuncture the outcome does not depend on needle location or even needle insertion. Since these variables are those that define acupuncture, the only sensible conclusion is that acupuncture does not work.

On the other side, acupuncture is not risk free. Several years ago, reports surfaced of blood borne diseases spread by improper sterilization of needles.

A recent case in Ontario illustrates another serious risk—lung punctures.

In 2006, world class judoka, Kim Ribble-Orr, was in an automobile crash and suffered on-going headaches. One of the places she turned to for help was acupuncturist Scott Spurrell. The results were devastating.

Mr. Spurrell, who learned the ancient Chinese art on weekends at a local university, had no reason to stick the needle in his patient’s chest, and had wrongly advised Ms. Ribble-Orr that the chest pain and other symptoms she reported later were likely just from a muscle spasm, a discipline tribunal ruled….

Ms. Ribble-Orr, 39, said she continues to suffer from the “nightmare” aftermath of the incident, her plans to enter mixed-martial arts or pursue a career in policing finished, activities as simple as walking up the stairs leaving her out of breath….

By mid-2006, Ms. Ribble-Orr was moving into the fast-developing sport of mixed-martial arts, while also eyeing a police job, and recovering from a car accident. She had already seen Mr. Spurrell five times when she visited him on June 21, complaining particularly of pounding headaches.

He convinced her he could curb the head pain by inserting a two-inch needle into a muscle located between the clavicle bone and ribs, the discipline ruling said.

Shortly after leaving the clinic, Ms. Ribble-Orr began having difficulty breathing, chest pain and a “grinding” sensation. She returned to the therapist later, wondering if she had suffered a pneumothorax. He told her it was more likely a muscle spasm, but said she could go to the hospital if she felt it was more serious or if the symptoms worsened.

The next morning, she did feel worse and finally headed to the emergency department. Ms. Ribble-Orr’s lung had indeed collapsed and she spent the next two weeks in hospital, as a serious lung infection and then a blood infection followed.  She was left with just 55% function in one lung.

A life-altering incident caused by a procedure with no proven benefit. One scam artist disciplined, but the others remain untouched.

In main stream medicine, a procedure with that sort of track record would be dropped from standards of practice. No such possibility exists for the magical thinking behind acupuncture and most of alt-med.

There is no place in health care for a treatment like this.


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2 Responses to Acupuncture and Risk

  1. Gold Price says:

    Yes, this acupuncturist is seriously arguing that “well-trained” TCM practitioners wouldn’t have had this complication and then goes on to cite a paper from a very acupuncture-friendly source that shows a surprising number of serious complications from acupuncture, including cardiac tamponnade, infection, various reports of needles breaking off and migrating elsewhere in the body (shades of the President of South Korea !), and even neurological injury. One remembers a recent review of the Chinese literature by Edzard Ernst describing complications of acupuncture, including pneumothorax (201 cases), spinal epidural hematoma (9 cases), subarachnoid hemorrhage (35 cases), right ventricular puncture (2 cases), intestinal perforation (5 cases), and a whole lot of other complications and infections. Indeed, Ernst found that pneumothorax was by far the most common significant complication of acupuncture, and, as we’ve discussed , acupuncture is not harmless . There are quite a few potential complications up to and including 90 deaths in the world literature .

  2. Pingback: Michael Kruse on Naturopaths in HuffPo Canada | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

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