You may think acupuncture sounds intriguing, and maybe you even want to try it to treat an injury or other health issue. Still, acupuncture just sounds so… weird! What are the side effects? How do you know it’s safe? What is a normal reaction to acupuncture?
Well, don't worry, because we've got you covered. Here are some of the most common side effects of acupuncture, and what to do if you experience them.
Bruising: One of the most common side effects of acupuncture is a small bruise or hematoma where one of the needles was inserted.
Acupuncturists spend years in school learning about human anatomy and safe needle technique, so they know how to avoid your major veins and arteries. Despite this, bruising still happens from time to time.
This is because capillaries, the tiniest branches of our circulatory system, form wherever they find the most efficient path to transport blood, oxygen, and nutrition. The capillaries sometimes form under an acupuncture point, so even though your acupuncturist has the correct location and has inserted the needle skillfully, she still might nick a capillary. When this happens you may notice a bruise forming either immediately after your session, or a few hours later.
What to do: This is usually nothing to worry about, but the bruise can be flushed out more quickly if you use an arnica based gel. Arnica is a homeopathic remedy available at many drugstores as a topical gel or cream. It is an anti-inflammatory and may encourage the movement of white blood cells through the area. You probably learned that white blood cells are the sanitation crew of the body back in high school biology - you want to harness these hard workers! You can get a similar effect from a hot compress or heat pad. The warmth attracts blood flow to the area and dilates or opens the vessels, which brings more of the blood cell helpers to the area to clean up your bruise.
Soreness: If you have a particularly tight muscle knot, known as a Trigger Point, your acupuncturist may release it using an acupuncture needle. While this gives relief, it can also lead to a feeling of soreness in the area either immediately following or up to a day after your session. This is because those muscle fibers have been working really hard to clench into that knot!
What to do: As with bruising, the key to relieving post-acupuncture muscle soreness is blood flow. Try a heat pad on the affected area, or try alternating hot and cold (don’t use the cold for more than ten minutes at a time). Try to avoid cold by itself, since this will numb the area but will also constrict your blood vessels and decrease blood flow, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to do. You’ll also want to be sure to drink plenty of water following your session. Good hydration helps to lubricate the muscle fibers so you can avoid that knot forming again.
Euphoria / Light Headedness: A common side effect of acupuncture is a feeling of euphoria or a so-called “acupuncture high” after a session. Similar to a runner’s high, this is likely brought on because of the release of endorphins like dopamine as a result of the tiny injuries (micro trauma) caused by each needle. While many people find this pleasant, it can be too much. There may also be cases where the euphoria gives way to a headache or a feeling of being unpleasantly ungrounded, to the point that some people faint after receiving acupucnture.
What to do: One of the things our receptionists tell every new patient is that they should be sure to eat before their appointment. You don’t have to have a huge meal, but don’t attend acupuncture first thing in the morning with an empty stomach, either! This may prevent feeling uncomfortably out of it after your session. A little food is also a good way to get grounded if you find yourself flying a little too high after acupuncture.
You can also try massaging acupoints on the foot. One common grounding point is located on the bottom of your foot, just where the arch starts, in line with your second and third toes:
Fortunately, any uncomfortable euphoric side effects should fade with time.
Before You Go
Remember that no matter what happens, your acupuncturist should be available and willing to answer any questions you might have, or to give you advice about what to do if you're not feeling so great after a session. Also, keep in mind that these are some of the most common issues that a rise after acupuncture, but they certainly aren't the experience of every acupuncture patient! Chances are, none of these things will happen to you, but if they do, you're now armed with information and know what to do.