Are acupuncture needles safe?

Any practice centred on the application of needles through the skin will raise some concerns amongst members of the public with regards to its safety. Acupuncture needles are the heart of the practice as these needles are the tools with which acupuncture is practiced. In this article we look at how safe these needles are.

The material used to make acupuncture needles

Acupuncture needles are largely made out of stainless steel, a material that can be effectively sterilised. One of the major safety concerns involved in acupuncture is the risk of infection associated with puncturing the skin and pushing a foreign object through layers of tissue. If needles are not adequately sterilised, they can introduce dangerous infections to the body and pose a serious risk to the health of a patient. Hepatitis B for example, is a viral infection that attacks the liver causing serious symptoms and, in extreme cases, posing a risk to the life of the sufferer. Hep B is the infection most closely associated to acupuncture, and is an example of why ensuring that needles are made out of a safe material that can be effectively sterilised is so important.

These needles are also useful because they can safely be inserted into skin without the risk of bending or deforming. While needles are handled delicately, a fairly robust material is still needed to avoid accidentally bending or twisting its shape. If a needle does deform after being pushed into a patient’s skin, it can cause some serious damage and carries with it an increased risk of infection.

Safe usage of needles

As the previous section has hopefully shown, the needles themselves are designed to be as safe as possible. Perhaps the most important aspect of the safe use of acupuncture needles is the practitioner his or herself.

Adverse events as a consequence of acupuncture have been shown to be largely associated with poor training and qualifications rather than because of the needles themselves. These include increased risk of infection because of poor hygiene and aseptic technique and an increased risk of injury to vital organs through incorrect placement of needles.

With this in mind the most important step towards determining the effectiveness of and safety of acupuncture needles is the quality of the acupuncturist, and one of the simplest ways to ensure that a practitioner meets high standards in terms of their training and practice is to look for individuals registered with regulatory professional bodies like the British Acupuncture Council. In these cases, individuals must abide by a code of practice which offers the public peace of mind in the quality of the service for which they are paying.

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