In a nightmare experience, a 33-year-old woman visited an acupuncturist in New Zealand to following arm and wrist injuries that caused pain in her shoulders but left with two collapsed lungs. The investigation into the incident by New Zealand Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill revealed that the accident was the fault of the acupuncturist, who stuck the needles in too deeply and pierced her patient’s lung through a pressure point in her shoulders.
Details of the investigation stated that in order to treat the injury-causing shoulder pain and shortness of breath, the acupuncturist called Ms. B in the case report, inserted two needles near the spot known as the Gallbladder 21 or Jian Jing pressure point in Chinese medicine, located near the top of the shoulders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this is a risky area as it rests dangerously close to the pointed ends of the lungs near the neck and one review indicated that it contributes to almost 30 percent of lung collapse cases related to acupuncture. The woman reported pain when the needles were inserted and later recalled that the instruments felt “extremely deep” in the filed report. Nevertheless, the needles were left in place for 30 minutes before the acupuncturist twisted and removed them.
During this action, the victim reported feeling a sudden onset of “right-sided chest pain and shortness of breath”. Ms. B’s notes show that the patient had begun to feel a stuffy chest after the second adjustment and slight pain. In response, Ms. B claims that she immediately removed the needles and provided additional treatment and advised the patient to go home and rest.
Once home, the pain in the left side of her chest and numbness in the right side persisted, so the woman’s husband took her to the hospital’s emergency department where she was diagnosed with bilateral apical pneumothoraces – i.e. collapsed lung on both sides of the body.
Although rare, acupuncturists do occasionally pierce patients’ lungs through the Jian Jing pressure point and New Zealand’s Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights requires that this well-established risk should be clearly spelled out for patients before any needles enter their skin.
In this case, the acupuncturist reportedly failed to inform her patient of these risks and also neglected to have her sign a required written consent form. Hill’s investigation concluded that the acupuncturist had failed to explain the risks of the procedure to the patient adequately and did not take proper care during the treatment and was thus in breach of the health code.
Although science is less certain about the health benefits of acupuncture, some studies do suggest that it helps with conditions such as chronic pain and migraines.