A few words of support..

A few words of support..

This blog is in response to comments on this blog https://www.migrainesavvy.com/acupuncture-for-migraines.html by Holly Hazen.

On behalf of acupuncturists, I am sorry about the harshness and fearful overreaction displayed in the comments about your blog.  Who knew acupuncturists are so afraid of acupuncture?! 

As a side note to the profession: THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU ARE TOO EXPENSIVE!  Please start thinking about the future of the acupuncture profession and lower your prices.  Acupuncture works best when people can afford to get it often and regularly.

Back on track: Acupuncture is very, very safe.  (Check out this link for more info. https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/public-content/public-safety-of-acupuncture/is-acupuncture-safe.html)  In addition, the points you suggest are very safe as well.  I would like to address a few of the fears brought up in the comment thread of your blog.


Fear #1 -Acupuncture is extremely complex and requires 3-5 years of education to be safe and even then the practitioner must exercise caution because they could to the “wrong” point, treatment, etc.

Chinese herbal medicine is indeed complex and deals with many materials that could be harmful to the body if performed incorrectly.  Acupuncture is another matter.

The acupuncture school I attended is from the Worsely 5 element tradition.  Before acupuncture education became formalized in the west, Dr. Worsely was reported to say that all he had to teach could be taught in a year.  I can personally attest that my 3 years in acupuncture school seemed like one years’ worth of content stretched out over 3 years and it is my opinion that 1 year of education is enough to ensure that the acupuncture practitioner is able to safely administer treatments.

There are many different traditions of acupuncture.  They have their own rules and protocols.  These different styles often disagree with each other on basics like point location, needling technique, depth of needling, number of needles, length of retention, and the function of individual points.  The funny thing is that they all work.  Even the modern experimental practice of Sham Acupuncture has shown itself to be effective.  My point is that there is no singular Right Way to do acupuncture.  It appears that acupuncture theory is full of fears and taboos that do not materialize in the real world.

My intention with this blog is not to train acupuncturists over the internet but to dispel some myths and fears that are utterly false.  The best way to learn acupuncture is by directly observing and working with a skilled practitioner.  What I am talking about is apprenticeship. 


Fear #2 -Infection is a serious risk.

Infection is extremely rare.  I have personally done 10,000 treatments over the past 2.5 years without single incident of infection.  Acupuncture pins are very fine and solid core so they do minimal damage to the surrounding tissue as they go in.  It is a mistake to compare the safety of acupuncture needles with hypodermic needles.

To further reduce infection risks:

1-      Acupuncture pins must be pre-sterilized and single use.

2-      Proper hand hygiene is a must.  Wash with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer.


Fear #3 -Nerve Damage is common.

Nerve damage is also very rare.  You might “tickle” a nerve now and then causing an brief electric feeling and the area may temporarily “feel funny”.  This usually lasts 30 seconds to 20min but on rare occasion it may last a few days.

Experienced acupuncturists may touch a nerve now and then as each person’s anatomy varies slightly. 

Tips on avoiding nerves or minimizing discomfort:

1-      If your patient gets a shocking feeling then back the pin out some until it is comfortable.

2-      Avoid vigorous needle techniques especially on points that are not very fleshy (like LI4).

3-      Avoid deep needling in the beginning especially in non-fleshy areas.  Use tubes, tap them in and don’t insert them much deeper.


Fear # 4 -You might cause a hematoma

The most common side effect of acupuncture is bleeding or bruising.  If the person has a clotting disorder or is on anticoagulant therapy the risk of bleeding or bruising increases but not to the point that it becomes dangerous.

Bleeding and bruising happens even with skilled acupuncturists because vascular anatomy just like nervous anatomy varies from person to person.  Yes, the major arteries, veins, and nerves are largely predictable but the smaller ones often are not.

A hematoma occurs when a blood vessel has been damaged by a pin.  This usually becomes noticeable when the pin is taken out.  A drop or two of blood may come out and then the tissue may begin to swell.  This often looks like a small marble under the skin and occurs because there is bleeding under the skin.  The best thing to do is to apply pressure for a few minutes with a cotton ball.  The hematoma will have gone down by then and should not reappear.  You can expect a bruise to form there.  It is usually just discoloration and should not be painful.  The homeopathic remedy arnica gel is helpful for reducing the bruise.

Hematomas can be quite large at times but these are rare and are usually the result of a larger vessel being punctured.  Ways to avoid this are:

1-      Don’t needle deep.

2-      Don’t needle vigorously.

3-      Select points on the arms, legs, scalp and ears.


Fear # 5 -You can puncture an organ or the spinal cord

This is also very rare.  The most likely organ you can puncture is the lung and this could cause a pneumothorax or a collapse of the lung.  With thin or elderly patients, the amount of tissue between the skin and the lung can be unexpectedly small.  A pneumothorax is an emergency situation that requires prompt medical care and is marked by sharp chest pain on the effected side and mild or extreme shortness of breath.

The best way to avoid organ puncture is to select points on the arms, legs, scalp and ears (AKA distal needling).  If you do needle the torso or neck then don’t needle deep or vigorously.  Luckily, good results can be obtained with distal needling and a gentle needle technique.


Fear #6 -Forbidden Points with Pregnancy

There are a few points that are generally agreed to avoid during pregnancy for fear of causing a miscarriage.  They are LI4, Sp6, GB21, Sp6, UB60-67 and any abdominal and back points below the umbilicus.

Some acupuncturists question the validity of this list on the grounds that acupuncture can’t really force the body to do something it doesn’t naturally want to do.  Further study is needed to determine if these points really are unsafe.  With pregnancy it is best to err on the side of caution so it is best to avoid them with pregnant women until they are ready to deliver.


I hope that this can contribute to the public knowledge of acupuncture.  Acupuncture is a very safe and effective technique that can be safely administered with some basic knowledge.  Once again the best way to learn acupuncture is with the guidance of a skilled and experienced acupuncturist. 

If I missed a common fear or you would like to expand or respond to one I wrote about please chime in!

This information is not only based on my personal experience of doing 10,000 treatments with 1,500 people in 2.5 years but also on the experience of many other POCA punks who have been just as busy or busier and over a longer time period. Think tens of thousands of patients and hundreds of thousands of treatments over several years.  Support POCAtech!  www.pocatech.org

Author: Ztrukn

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  1. Thank you so much for writing this, Nick. I have often felt that articles written for the public have done more harm than good. Especially, when the author writes “makes sure that your practitioner is licensed.” Of course we are licensed. It hasn’t happened in a while, but I’ve had to assure any number of new patients that I and my four co-punks are all licensed nationally and by our state.

  2. Oh good lord.. I think far less people would have tried to obtain and use acupuncture needles on themselves than the number of people who might read all of those comments and think that acupuncture is something deadly that should never be tried! Get a hold of yourselves you crazy acupuncturists! The girl who wrote the article apparently went to 3 years of school- maybe she should have mentioned that- but I’m pretty sure she knew enough to needle herself. Can we post a link to Nick’s reply blog on that site?

  3. I love fear mongering acupuncturists, always trying to make this seem far more complex and mysterious than it really is. Really folks this isn’t rocket surgery, it’s just sticking needles into people. Thanks for writing a excellent well written response Nick.

  4. Getting down to brass tacks, love it! Every acupuncturist who pig-piled on that blog post completely ignored the *very first sentence* of it which was that this was “the cheapest way” to maintain the benefits she was getting in between (expensive) office visits. Of course, DIY is probably the scariest turf warfare possible!

  5. yes- “turf warfare”- this totally smelled of dry needling hysteria to me- and of course- if everyone thinks that acupuncture is so simple that you can do it yourself, how could I as an acupuncturist convince people that they should pay me $75 or $80 to do the same thing? (not that I would)

  6. To be absolutely fair, one of the very few (possibly the only) recorded incidences of death resulting from acupuncture in the West was the sad case of a person who watched a TV show about acupuncture and then attempted to treat herself — with a sewing needle — at CV 17 (for laypeople, that’s a point on the sternum very close to the heart). I think it’s safe to assume that this person had other problems besides whatever it was she was treating herself for. This was decades ago, and there have been no other such cases. There are safety issues with all human activities (if you look at actuarial data, your kitchen is a terribly dangerous place, not to mention your car, not to mention prescription drugs). Thanks Nick for a clear, detailed, rational response to the latest spasm of turf-motivated hysteria.

  7. Nick, this was such a breath of fresh air after reading all the unwarranted righteous indignation in the comments on poor Holly’s blog. Of course, by the time I read the blog it had been cleaned up, so I couldn’t really tell what all the furor was over.

    Reading the comments, I became increasingly embarrassed by the ugly tone of the acupuncturists’ scolding and criticism. I was chagrined to see a couple of names I recognized using that tone (and exclamation marks). So thank you again, Nick, for bringing it all back to earth.

  8. Nick, so awesome that you wrote this, thank you!
    I feel sorry for Holly, the poor women has migraines 20 days of the month sometimes and thats what she gets for trying to help herself and other people. So pathetic to target her and her blog.
    If you google ‘DIY Acupuncture’ their are people suggesting it all over the place.

  9. Great work, Nick. After all the bitching we hear about acupuncture not being properly understood by non-acupuncturists, it’s amazing how eagerly some of our own colleagues can then turn around and scoop more poop than anyone else. Thanks so much for taking the time to wipe that crap off the window. Or was it a mirror?…..

  10. if the goal is acupuncture for everyone, i think self care will have to be a part of that. There are so many darned people who need treatments that if someone can help their own headache with LV3 DU20 that we show them how to do in one minute, then why not? I dont understand why anyone would be opposed to DIY or chiropractor-acupuncturist, or anyone else who is accessing this tool. There is a huge need for any and every kind of acupuncture and seemingly plenty of ‘room’ for everyone. Besides, if that patient resorted to some misunderstood pharmaceutical no one would be saying anything.