x-ray published in NEJM shows acupuncture gone wrong
New England Journal of Medicine

A South Korean woman’s chronic knee pain led to an interesting x-ray scan by her radiologist. Hundreds of tiny needles remained lodged around her knee, left over from routine acupuncture treatments she had been undertaking for her osteoarthritis.

The woman’s case report was published in the December 2013 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. According to researchers at the University of Rhode Island and Chonbuk National University in South Korea, the 65-year-old woman had been undergoing acupuncture for osteoarthritis in her knees after medications had caused gastrointestinal problems and steroid shots were ineffective.

Gold thread acupuncture, commonly performed in Asian countries to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, involves inserting tiny gold threads in an affected area with acupuncture needles, and leaving them there intentionally for continuous stimulation.

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The image and case were published in the medical journal to demonstrate how the practice of leaving behind gold threads can complicate an x-ray scan.

An estimated 3.1 million American adults underwent acupuncture in 2007 for conditions ranging from infertility to chronic pain, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. There’s not a lot of good scientific evidence that acupuncture—especially gold thread acupuncture—can effectively treat chronic knee pain.