Acupuncture - Safety and regulation 

Safety and regulation of acupuncture 

There is no statutory regulation of acupuncture in England, but many non-medical acupuncture practitioners are required to register with their local authority.

This is because of the risk of blood-borne infections from piercing the skin with acupuncture needles. The same rules also cover tattooing and body piercing.

Practitioners of conventional medicine, such as GPs, physiotherapists and nurses, are subject to statutory regulation. This means there are special laws to ensure they are properly qualified and adhere to certain standards or codes of practice.

The local authority must also ensure it has bylaws that govern the cleanliness of the acupuncture premises, practitioners, instruments, materials and equipment.

Voluntary regulation

There are a number of acupuncture organisations in the UK 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 they require of their members are also available on their websites.

These organisations include:

Risks and side effects

Acupuncture is safe when it is conducted by a qualified practitioner.

Mild, short-lasting side effects do occur in some cases, however. These include:

  • pain where the needles puncture the skin
  • bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin
  • drowsiness
  • feeling sick
  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • worsening of pre-existing symptoms

Serious complications from treatment, such as infections or damage to tissue, are extremely rare. They usually only occur as the result of bad practice, carried out by an acupuncture practitioner who has not been properly trained.

Who may not be able to have acupuncture?

Because of the slight risk of bleeding, people with bleeding disorders such as haemophilia, or people taking medication to prevent blood clotting (anticoagulants), may not be able to have acupuncture.

If you have a blood disorder or are taking anticoagulants, talk to your GP before you have acupuncture.

Acupuncture is also not usually advised if you have a metal allergy or an infection in the area where needles may be inserted.

Before treatment, your acupuncture practitioner should ask you about any underlying conditions you have or medication you are taking, as some of these may affect the treatment you can have.

It is generally safe to have acupuncture when you are pregnant. However, you should let your acupuncture practitioner know if you are pregnant because certain acupuncture points cannot be used safely during pregnancy.

See are complementary therapies safe in pregnancy? for more information.

Page last reviewed: 15/07/2014

Next review due: 15/07/2016


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Nick Pahl said on 11 September 2013

The British Acupuncture Council in 2013 was accredited by the Professional Standards Authority, a body accountable to Parliament.

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socratella said on 18 March 2011

Information on this page is incorrect. Acupuncture is legally controlled as a piercing activity since 1982 on health and safety grounds; premises and practitioners are subject to the conditions of Special Treatment Licencing. Each Borough Council sets its own criteria for licensing. Acupuncturists in London are controlled under the 1991/2000 Local Authorities Act so that only acupuncturists currently members of approved training associations such as AACP, BAaC, etc. are legally permitted to practice. The Act does not recognise Acupuncture as physiotherapy, so physiotherapists must be trained current members of an association such as the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP). As there is no formal certification of acupuncture available for licensing, the legal fiction says they are "exempt" from licencing but still need to register with their local Council and can get a form online under Special Treatment Licensing. Medical doctors and dentists are exempt from licensing. The Act says physiotherapists are Practitioners of acupuncture need to enquire for information at their own Borough Council.

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