Acupuncture Urban Legends

When I was in graduate school, there was a tragic incident of acupuncture overtreatment. A student of NESA had taken a heavy courseload, and as a result she was given four or five sessions of acupuncture by students in one day. She left school that day and died of an acupuncture-induced embolism. Well, actually, she didn't die...but she did go blind. In one eye. Come to think of it, I later heard that she had gone deaf, not blind, but she never recovered her hearing. At least, she didn't recover it quickly-it took about a year to come back. Oh, wait...it was a month. A month without hearing from acupuncture overtreatment! Sounds unbelievable, but I heard this from a reliable source- a sister of a friend of a cousin of a teacher of hers. Every profession has its share of urban legends, and acupuncture is no exception. As with all urban legends, though, there is usually a morsel of truth buried somewhere in the story, like the tiny piece of grit that begins the birth of the pearl. In the case above, the student probably was overtreated. I had many days where I had several treatments by students within a short period of time, and left school with headaches and exhaustion. But I never stroked out, lost any of my senses, or fell into a coma after multiple treatments, and I have yet to know anyone else who has, either. Although I don't recommend getting more than one treatment per day, I'm pretty sure that overdosing on acupuncture will not be the end of you.

Speaking of ending, there are some out there who apparently believe we acupuncturists, amongst our other talents, play the role of "Angel of Death." If we place those needles in exactly the right location...bam! The end!

This belief probably originated with all the work we do in hospices. When you work in the field of end-of-life care...well, you are going to see the end of lives.

And as for acupuncture killing the young and healthy? A few years ago, a woman died during acupuncture when a needle pierced her heart. This story is actually true, and repeated ad nauseum by acupuncture skeptics. What most fail to mention is that the woman died giving acupuncture to herself. She had no experience with or knowledge of acupuncture, and she inserted a needle into her chest cavity, causing a cardiac tamponade. Funny, I can't see an outcry against appendectomies starting if I died removing my own appendix...do you? Probably not.

So let's talk about some of the rumors I've heard about adjunct therapies. My personal favorite therapy is bloodletting. I get great results from patients when I add this type of treatment. Of course, the words no more than leave my lips and people assume that they will shortly be covered in leeches. Years ago, doctors used leeches all the time-their blood has an anticoagulant that can help with blood-clotting issues. In fact, I believe that some docs still use them today. However, while leeches have medical merit, you will not find any in my office. After watching "Stand By Me," there was never any chance of me incorporating those things into my practice. No, when I bloodlet I use a tiny lancet to prick an area of the body and bring up a few drops of blood. No leeches, no medieval torture devices. Just your standard, tiny lancet.

Cupping and gua sha are two other adjunct therapies that I frequently use...but carefully, because if I don't do it right, the patient will die instantly. Just kidding. The truth is, both gua sha and cupping open the surface of the skin, leading to a doorway for pathogens to get in. So, I always tell my patients to stay covered up after having either of these techniques done. And what will happen if they don't? Well, this is my experience with being disobedient after getting a good round of gua sha: I went home, took a shower, and promptly passed out naked in front of my air conditioner. When I woke up, I had a sore throat, runny nose, and headache-in short, I got a cold. It was a pretty bad one, too, that lasted several days. It was my own fault for doing the exact opposite of what I was told, and it is now a lesson I share with patients.