In competent hands, acupuncture is generally a safe procedure with few contraindications or complications. Its most commonly used form involves needle penetration of the skin and may be compared to a subcutaneous or intramuscular injection. Nevertheless, there is always a potential risk, however slight, of transmitting infection from one patient to another (e.g. HIV or hepatitis) or of introducing pathogenic organisms. Safety in acupuncture therefore requires constant vigilance in maintaining high standards of cleanliness, sterilization and aseptic technique.
There are, in addition, other risks which may not be foreseen or prevented but for which the acupuncturist must be prepared. These include: broken needles, untoward reactions, pain or discomfort, inadvertent injury to important organs and, of course, certain risks associated with the other forms of therapy5 classified under the heading of "acupuncture".
5 Acupunture treatment is not limited to needling, but may also include: acupressure, electro-acupunture, laser acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, scraping and magnetotherapy.
Finally, there are the risks due to inadequate training of the acupuncturist. These include inappropriate selection of patients, errors of technique, and failure to recognize contraindications and complications, or to deal with emergencies when they arise.