By Sara Calabro
The most common side effects of acupuncture are things everyone wants: better sleep, more energy, mental clarity, better digestion and less stress. One or several of these side effects occur routinely for many, many acupuncture goers.
Following the publication of an article on the most common side effects of acupuncture, AcuTake received multiple inquires from readers about certain unpleasant side effects of acupuncture and whether they too were common.
And indeed, there are other, less pleasant side effects of acupuncture. These additional side effects are much rarer than the most common side effects of acupuncture, but they can and do occasionally happen.
None are life-threatening and all typically are fleeting. Still, they are good to be aware of so that if you do experience them, you know they’re normal and nothing to be too concerned about.
In my experience, the following seven side effects can occur after acupuncture. Acupuncturist readers are encouraged to chime in, in the comment section below, about other possible side effects of acupuncture.
While most people notice a marked improvement in their symptoms following acupuncture, some feel worse before they start feeling better. In natural medicine circles this is sometimes referred to as a healing crisis. The idea is that as your body starts undergoing the changes involved in moving toward health, things get stirred up. This can cause not only an exacerbation of current symptoms but also the recurrence of previous ailments that had been dormant.
Acupuncture awakens your self-healing capabilities. With that can come an onslaught of bodily awareness. This usually is a positive experience but it also can mean heightened sensitivity or intolerance for things that previously felt normal. An example of this is someone who unconsciously adapts to stress by tightening and hunching up his shoulders. After an acupuncture treatment, once this person’s bodily felt sense has been woken up, his mild upper back and neck tension might start screaming.
The good news about this side effect is that it’s a sign that things are moving. In the case of acupuncture, this means that the primary objective is being met. That is, you are starting to transition on multiple levels from stuck to unstuck.
People can feel wiped out after acupuncture. A more common result is increased energy but sometimes the “acu land” effect hangs on a little longer. This is your body telling you that it’s depleted. Feeling fatigued after acupuncture is not cause for concern but it is a warning sign that you need to rest.
If you have this experience, take it easy for the remainder of the day. Take a bath that night. Go to bed early. Come morning, the combination of acupuncture and rest will leave you feeling born again.
Body parts where acupuncture needles get inserted can feel sore after needles are removed. I’ve found that this most commonly occurs with points in the hands and feet, especially Large Intestine 4, an acupuncture point located between the thumb and index finger. You also may experience muscle soreness away from the needling site if a trigger or ashi point was released during your treatment.
Soreness from acupuncture typically dissipates within 24 hours. However, big trigger point releases can cause residual soreness that lasts a few days. Most acupuncturists will warn you about this before you leave your appointment.
Although less common than soreness, bruising can occur at the needling site. Sometimes bruising is the result of a hematoma, a localized collection of blood that gets initiated when the needle punctures the skin. Bruises, unfortunately, usually last longer than soreness from an acupuncture needle. Still, they generally are not anything to worry about beyond the aesthetic inconvenience.
It is unknown why some people bruise from acupuncture. I have a few patients who, no matter what I try in terms of needle brand, size or technique, they bruise every time. (Again, I often see it happen at Large Intestine 4.) Others—the majority—never experience bruising anywhere.
Every time I get acupuncture, no matter where the needles are placed, my right quadricep muscle twitches like crazy. Don’t ask me why. People may experience involuntary muscle twitching during or after acupuncture. I’ve seen this occur in muscles that receive acupuncture needles and, as in my case, on seemingly random parts of the body that are far away from any needles.
Muscle twitching is different from full-on muscle spasm. If during or after an acupuncture treatment you feel that one of your muscles is acutely spasming, especially if it’s a muscle that was just needled, tell your acupuncturist. He or she might be able to release it before you go on your merry way.
This is pretty rare but is can happen—and on very rare occasions, post-acupuncture lightheadedness can result in fainting. Getting up quickly from the acupuncture table can cause lightheadedness, as can coming for acupuncture on an empty stomach. Remember that eating is one of the key things to remember before an acupuncture appointment.
When your acupuncture session is over, take your time getting up and move gently as you gather your things to leave. If you find yourself feeling lightheaded after the treatment, sit in your acupuncturist’s waiting room for a few minutes and take some deep breaths. Acupuncture can be a physically and emotionally intense experience, and sometimes our bodies are not fully recovered at exactly the moment our hour is up. It is okay if you need a little extra time.
Sometimes people cry in acupuncture. Not because they’re in pain but because their emotions, which often get stifled while powering through life, become free flowing. The emotional release that can happen in acupuncture usually is a positive experience, but it can be surprising, especially for people who tend to be more emotionally stoical.
Feeling extra sensitive or tear prone in an acupuncture session, or in the days that follow, is completely normal. It’s also a sign that the acupuncture is working. Even if you’re seeking acupuncture for a physical ailment, increased emotional expression is an indication that healing is happening. From an acupuncture perspective, physical and emotional health are interconnected, so emotional shifts suggest forthcoming physical changes as well.
While these side effects are rarely cause for concern, you know your body best. If any of the above side effects feel like they’re too severe or lasting too long—or if you notice any additional negative reactions to an acupuncture treatment—you should contact your acupuncturist.
Photo by Sara Calabro
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