Intended for healthcare professionals


The safety of acupuncture

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 01 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:467

Acupuncture is safe in the hands of competent practitioners

  1. Charles Vincent, professor of psychology (
  1. Clinical Risk Unit, Department of Psychology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT

    Papers pp 485, 486

    For many patients attracted to complementary medicine its safety has been one of its principal appeals. Complementary methods, including acupuncture, are seen as less invasive, more natural, and less liable to adverse effects than more orthodox forms of treatment. Critics of complementary medicine have, however, often castigated it as being dangerous, sometimes in the same breath as ridiculing complementary methods for their lack of effectiveness and scientific support. For many years, certainly until the mid-1980s, these debates were little more than exchanges of usually entrenched and unwavering opinion on either side.1 Now we begin to have some evidence.

    The early literature on the safety of acupuncture consisted entirely of case reports. Rampes and James summarised all case reports between 1966 and 1993, finding 395 instances of complications.2 Many were minor, such as bruising or fainting, but 216 were serious, including several cases of pneumothorax and injury to the spinal cord. Only one death due to acupuncture was reported, in which a needle penetrated the pericardium. As the acupuncture was self administered, however, this perhaps falls …

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