Safety and regulation of acupuncture
In England, there is not statutory regulation of acupuncture, but acupuncturists are required to register with their local authority.
Practitioners of conventional medicine, such as GPs, are subject to statutory regulation. This means that there are special laws to ensure that they are properly qualified, and adhere to certain standards or codes of practice.
When it is carried out by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture is safe. Serious side effects or complications arising from treatment are extremely rare.
There are a number of acupuncture organisations in the UK that practitioners can join if they hold certain qualifications and agree to work according to certain codes of practice.
If you decide to have acupuncture, you can visit the websites of these organisations to find a qualified acupuncturist near you. The qualifications and codes of practice that they require of their members are also available on their websites.
These organisations include:
British Academy of Western Medical Acupuncture (BAWMA)
British Acupuncture Federation (BAF)
British Register of Complementary Practitioners (BRCP)
British Acupuncture Council (BAcC)
The British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS)
Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP)
Risks and side effects
When conducted by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture is safe.
Mild, short-lasting side effects occur in around 7-11% of patients. These include:
pain where the needles puncture the skin
bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin
worsening of pre-existing symptoms
Serious complications from treatment, such as infections or damage to tissue, are extremely rare. They usually occur only as a result of bad practice, carried out by an acupuncturist who has not been properly trained.
Who may not be able to have acupuncture?
Due to the slight risk of bleeding, people with bleeding disorders, such as haemophilia (where blood is unable to clot) may not be able to have acupuncture. People who take medicines that prevent the blood clotting, called anticoagulants, may not be able to have acupuncture. If you have a blood disorder or you are taking medicine that prevents blood clots, talk to your GP before you have acupuncture.
It is generally safe to have acupuncture when you are pregnant. Let your acupuncturist know if you are pregnant because certain acupuncture points cannot be used safely during pregnancy.