To manage her chronic upper back pain, a woman in Portugal sought treatment at an acupuncture clinic.
But instead of relief, pain struck her right shoulder as needles as the acupuncturist inserted needles between her shoulders. For the next two days, the pain never subsided. She also constantly felt tired and had difficulty breathing.
The 79-year-old woman then visited her general practitioner who then ordered a chest x-ray, revealing a right lung collapse. She brought herself to the emergency room of Centro Hospitalar Universitario de Lisboa Central, where doctors diagnosed her with pneumothorax. This is a lung collapse due to air or gas present in the pleural cavity located between the chest wall and lungs.
At the hospital, the doctors inserted a right chest tube to relieve symptoms and expand her right lung by removing fluid and air. Doctors removed the tube on the second day, discharging the patient on the third.
Although highly regarded as an alternative pain treatment, this TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practice is not without its complications. While rare, pneumothorax is still a risk of the ancient Chinese treatment with 179 reported cases worldwide.
Despite mixed scientific evidence on effectiveness, acupuncture is quickly rising in popularity as a method for pain management. As the global opioid epidemic continues, so does the need for alternative pain treatments.
Doctors warn the public of the possibility of pneumothorax, the most common complication associated with acupuncture. Thus, it’s vital patients seek doctor recommendations first or do extensive research on licensed acupuncturists.