When Acupuncture Overwhelms

Of the 165 incidents reported so far in our AERD, 4.24% are related in some way to psycho-emotional triggers that patients experience during or after treatment.

In one report, a psycho-emotional trigger resulted in the patient going to the emergency room. According to the acupuncturist who submitted the report, the patient has a history of PTSD and anxiety. On the day of the incident, she came in reporting anxiety and insomnia as well as feeling overly sedated from an over-the-counter insomnia medication. The report continues, “After about 30 minutes of acupuncture she reported that she "didn't feel right," was worried about permanent brain damage and felt she "was going to die." She was encouraged to go to the ER and she did immediately after her treatment. Everything checked out normal. She has been back for acupuncture numerous times since that incident.”

Psycho-emotional triggers aren’t listed in the Clean Needle Technique Manual as an adverse event related to acupuncture, but according to our AERD data, they’re more common than fainting (which is listed). Most psycho-emotional triggers don’t cause patients to seek follow-up medical care, but as this report illustrates, some do.

They’re absolutely a safety issue that practitioners should be prepared to deal with.

One aspect of dealing with them is knowing how to communicate with patients. Lisa Baird and Stephanie Cordes of Guelph Community Acupuncture created a little handout designed to be given to patients who have experienced a psycho-emotional trigger:

When Acupuncture Is Overwhelming

Sometimes acupuncture brings stuff up in overwhelming ways. This could include intense physical sensations, strong sudden memories, big emotions, or crying “for no reason”. Sometimes we re-experience traumatic events during acupuncture. This is rare, but it does happen, and the important thing to know is that there’s nothing wrong with any of this. Our nervous systems have many ways of dealing with things, and even though it can be really disturbing, all of these responses can be part of a healing process. So if you’ve gotten overwhelmed during acupuncture, please know that there’s nothing wrong with you. It might happen again during acupuncture or it might never come up again. You’re the only one who can know if or when it’s right for you to come back for further treatment. We’re here to support your decision either way.

You can find the handout in trifold form for easy printing here: file:///Users/ibook/Downloads/WhenAcupxOverwhelms.pdf

Thanks, GCA!