England’s record goalscorer Ellen White has revealed she suffered a punctured lung while receiving acupuncture treatment. The injury accelerated her decision to retire. White, 33, said she was still coming to terms with the “traumatic” injury.

Manchester City had sourced a “specialist” – evidently not such an excellent acupuncturist because the complication is avoidable with proper knowledge of anatomy – outside the club to provide her with acupuncture to treat her back problem because of a high number of injuries in the squad at the time. “If you’d said to me two or three years ago that you’re going to retire, I would have said ‘absolutely not’, but I’ve got to a time in my career,” she said. “I had a challenging time last year – coming back from the Olympics, I basically punctured my lung, and it was a lot for me to have to go through and a big reason that accelerated my want to retire.”

The injury happened when she returned to her club with a back spasm last summer. “It punctured my lung which isn’t something that happens normally, obviously,” she said. “It was a really traumatic time for me and something that I’m still figuring out now, still working through. I had to wait for the lung to basically inflate again. I had a needle put into my chest to drag all the air out then hopefully the lung would inflate again – which it has. At the time, I think for me, I just got into a zone of: ‘I need to get back playing. We’ve got these games – I want to be back playing for my club; I want to be back playing for England. I went very tunnel vision,” she said. “It wasn’t until a good two or three months later, it just hit me like a train, what actually happened and how traumatic it was.”

Despite her quick return to goalscoring form, which included becoming the Lionesses record goalscorer in November, the striker says she is still affected by the injury and suffers “phantom pain” where it feels like it is happening again. “It’s important for me now to tell my story, and say it was a big factor in my year and leading up to the decision of wanting to retire. Obviously, there are other factors that come into that as well. I don’t want it to happen to anybody else again is my main thing. I don’t want to walk away from the sport having not told it and not say that I want things in place for it not to happen to anyone else.”


Pneumothorax is by far the most common of all the serious, potentially fatal complications caused by acupuncture. In thin individuals, several acupuncture points over the upper thorax are just a few centimeters away from the lung. Therefore, it is easily possible to puncture a lung by inserting an acupuncture needle. This is from my 2010 review of the subject:

About 90 deaths after acupuncture have been anecdotally documented in the medical literature. Thus, acupuncture has been associated with more deaths than most other ‘alternative’ therapies except herbal medicine … The fatalities are usually due to an acupuncture needle penetrating a vital organ. This, in turn, can cause pneumothorax, cardiac tamponade, or major haemorrhage. Most instances of this nature are reported in the Asian literature which, for most of us, is not easily accessible.

A 2013 review of ours located 1104 cases that had been reported in the Korean literature alone. However, the truth of the matter is that nobody can be sure of the exact incidence figures. Why? Because there is no monitoring system that would reliably record such incidences.

I would argue that every single case of acupuncture-induced pneumothorax tells us that the acupuncturist was not adequately trained. With proper knowledge of anatomy, such complications should not happen. Therefore, such instances are a rude reminder that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is far too often in the hands of “specialists” who are a danger to the public.

15 Responses to Football star, Ellen White, suffered a pneumothorax caused by acupuncture

  • Remind us, what is the evidence that acupuncture provides any benefit in the treatment of ‘back spasm’ beyond the placebo?

    Ellen White might have a case in negligence if her club’s medical advisors sent her to an acupuncturist without giving her information on the level of evidence. She should have given informed consent.

    ‘Shouting’ in captial letters is rude on blogs, but CAVEAT EMPTOR – and beware of false promises.
    Shame. White was a good footballer.

    “I don’t want it to happen to anybody else again is my main thing” she says.
    So will she now join those of us who say “Use of acupuncture provides nothing but a theatrical placebo”?

    Does she realise that ‘acupuncture’ is Latin for ‘puncturing with needles’. (Acus – a needle.)
    In Greek: Balonetherapy! (Balone – a needle.)

    That’s what she needs to tell everybody!

  • “I would argue that every single case of acupuncture-induced pneumothorax tells us that the acupuncturist was not adequately trained.”

    An adequately trained acupuncturist would be an oxymoron. It reminds of this priceless gem of wisdom:

    Either you understand homeopathy and therefore don’t use it


    You use it and therefore don’t understand it.
    — Edzard Ernst

  • And how much is this being covered in the mainstream meejah? Y’know the same ones who were all over the England Euros victory? The same ones who tout all manner of “wellness” nonsense?

    Or is it the usual tumbleweed?

  • Apparently White’s treatment was performed by a physiotherapist and not an acupuncturist. A properly trained traditional acupuncturist has a lot more training in correct and safe needle technique, as opposed to the relatively brief training in ‘dry needling’ that physios generally receive.

  • When I get bored, I sometimes click videos such as those from one Doctor Mike Varshavski:
    Until now, the man had always presented mostly sensible information in an entertaining fashion, even though I’ve always been a bit suspicious of D.O.’s – but I chalked that up to osteopathy being rank quackery in most countries, but not the US.

    I was, however, rather taken aback when I came across one of his latest videos:

    Even though he states that he is “very much evidence-based in medicine” and literally admits that “the evidence for acupuncture isn’t great”, he still promotes it, committing several serious fallacies that no-one with a scientific mindset ought to make:
    – He claims that acupuncture is a low-risk tool that can potentially help in a lot of cases. This appears to be the classic but quite erroneous conflation of ‘low risk’ and ‘might help’. BZZZZT – WRONG!
    – He supports his point with personal anecdotal evidence – SEVERAL TIMES. BZZZZT – WRONG!
    – He goes on defending acupuncture, even though it would appear that the actual acupuncturist caused nerve damage, and may even have exacerbated this new problem in a subsequent session. This is the hallmark of a True Believer. BZZZZT – WRONG!
    – He chooses practitioners (both acupuncturists and others) based on apparent popularity on the Internet. BZZZZT – WRONG!

    The main thing he did right was walk out on that ‘nerve and pain specialist’ who is selling risky and expensive quackery using his medical license as a lure and a shield.
    But it was the acupuncturist who actually harmed him, not that doctor who descended into quackery. Yet at the end, the acupuncture gets the credit for his recovery …

  • ‘But is it ‘needling training’ that was missing in the case discussed here or proper anatomical knowledge?’

    @Edzard I would hope physiotherapists have pretty thorough anatomy training. But when I say ‘needling training’ I mean to include the related anatomy and how to avoid any risk of serious injury. This was certainly stressed in my training.

  • Deaths from pneumothorax following acupuncture is a known risk.

    White is a lucky lady.

    Manchester City are sending players to risk their lives for the sake of garnering at best nothing more than the placebo effect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new blog posts by email.

Recent Comments

Note that comments can be edited for up to five minutes after they are first submitted but you must tick the box: “Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.”

The most recent comments from all posts can be seen here.