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HandoutAs a world-class judoka, Kim Ribble-Orr weathered an extraordinary amount of adversity – not to mention battered limbs — to achieve her dream of competing in the Olympics.

When a massage therapist tried to treat the headaches she suffered after a 2006 car crash with acupuncture, however, he set off a cascade of health problems that would shatter Ms. Ribble-Orr’s sports-centred life — and raise questions about the popular needle therapy.

The therapist accidentally pierced Ms. Ribble-Orr’s left lung during acupuncture treatment that was later deemed unnecessary and ill-advised, causing the organ to collapse and leaving it permanently damaged. An Ontario court has just upheld the one-year disciplinary suspension imposed on therapist Scott Spurrell, rejecting his appeal in a case that highlights a rare but well-documented side effect of acupuncture.

Mr. Spurrell, who learned the ancient Chinese art on weekends at a local university, had no reason to stick the needle in his patient’s chest, and had wrongly advised Ms.Glenn Lowson photo for National Post Ribble-Orr that the chest pain and other symptoms she reported later were likely just from a muscle spasm, a discipline tribunal ruled.

Justice Harriet Sachs of the Ontario divisional court confirmed the College of Massage Therapists’ ruling in a recent judgment.

Ms. Ribble-Orr, 39, said she continues to suffer from the “nightmare” aftermath of the incident, her plans to enter mixed-martial arts or pursue a career in policing finished, activities as simple as walking up the stairs leaving her out of breath.

“It just ruined my life, it just changed it drastically, ” said the Hamilton, Ont., resident. “I had six knee surgeries [while competing in judo]. Doctors counted me out so many times, told me to quit. They were frustrated I wouldn’t stop… But this thing actually beat me and it’s hard to swallow.”

Glenn Lowson photo for National PostMr. Spurrell could not be reached and his lawyer, Amanda Smallwood, declined to comment.

The therapist had argued in his disciplinary hearing, however, that the collapsed lung might have another cause, that the acupuncture technique was appropriate, and that it would be unreasonable to expect therapists to advise patients to go to the hospital whenever they reported symptoms like Ms. Ribble-Orr’s.

Regardless, the regulatory college had never seen a discipline complaint involving serious injury to a patient of any kind, let alone one with such devastating consequences, noted Richard Shekter, the agency’s lawyer.

“It’s an unusual set of facts, ” he said, noting that one of the country’s leading lung surgeons had testified that penetrating the chest at that spot was a perilous activity.

“He said the area that this particular fellow was needling is an exceedingly high-risk area and you need compelling reasons to go in there.”

Acupuncture involves inserting solid needles into the body at specific points to encourage natural healing, improve mood and relieve pain, among other benefits, according to the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute. Proponents tout it as a safe, drug-free alternative to traditional medicine, one that is used by close to one in 10 Canadians, a 2007 Alberta study suggested.

A Danish analysis of randomized clinical trials in 2009, however, concluded that acupuncture offered only a slight, clinically irrelevant benefit over placebo acupuncture for pain.

Research has also indicated that pneumothorax — a lung collapsed by air in the chest cavity — is a rare complication. A 2012 British Medical Journal study found reports of five acupuncture-linked pneumothorax cases over two years.

Source: news.nationalpost.com
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