TCM: Preventing a Needle Stick Accident


I’ve stuck myself a few times with a used patient needle.

The first thing I feel is the pain of a shallow needle that stabbed my skin. The second thing I feel is a wave of adrenaline. The third thing I always experience is a feeling of stupidity. “How many times have I told students of mine to be careful?” I think. I realized there’s a theme to when it happens.

Needle sticks always have occurred when I was tired - at the end of a long day at the end of a long week. Maybe I break protocol and take more than one needle out at a time. Maybe I hold my sharps tray in a different way. No matter what, something that I normally do, and the energy to do it properly in the first place, breaks down.

It’s been a long time now since I have stuck myself. Like most things in my life I’ve had to learn the hard way to remember. Here are a list of the things I do without fail to prevent a needle stick:

  • The most important thing I do is identify when I am tired. I have a dialogue in my mind where I remind myself that I am tired and to do things more slowly and deliberately. This includes all diagnostics such as checking tongue and pulse, putting needles, and any adjunct therapies.

  • I hold my sharps disposal tray in the same way every time - in the palm of my hand. I never grab it from the top - which makes a canopy with my hand and a larger target to stab myself.

  • I take needles out one at a time - even if they are close together. It takes only a millisecond longer to remove needles, and each needle gets the attention and respect it deserves.

Adhering to my own principles ensures I am safe. We are all taught to have the right intention when putting needles in. However, I believe we should give the same amount of intention when removing now-bio-hazardous waste from underneath out patient’s skin. Intention, to me, means being in the present moment, watching my breath and doing one activity at a time. Present moment activities breed less accidents by slowing the pace and placing focused attention to a single moment. A life-lesson in itself that allows us practitioners to work in a safe environment for years to come.

I highly recommend coming up with your own protocols. What happens if you drop a needle on the floor of your carpeted treatment room? What happens if you lose one in the bedclothes on the massage table, or down a patient’s shirt? How are you taking needles out and how far do they have to travel before they hit the sharps container? Coming up with some solutions ahead of time will save you some stress when the time comes, and minimize possible accidents from happening in the first place.

Kenton Sefcik