Q. i suffer from pcos on both ovaries, i also suffer from weight issues due to this but have been told by nhs that they cannot help until my bmi is below 30. I know that i need to help myself but can accupuncture help whilst trying to concieve. Have been trying for 5 years.
A. The evidence for the treatment of fertility problems with acupuncture is a little thin, as our factsheet here shows. There are a number of studies which appear to indicate that acupuncture may help PCOS and the attendant fertility problems which it can cause, but not enough and not enough of consistently high quality for us to make any claims.
However, traditional Chinese medicine has a very long history of treating exactly the same issues which trouble people today, and although its conceptual basis is entirely different from conventional western medicine, the symptoms which people have and the way in which they describe them haven't changed, and have been diagnosed and treated in Chinese medicine terms for centuries. There are a number of patterns or syndromes in Chinese medicine which reflect quite closely the sorts of problems which PCOS sufferers have and their problems with fertility, and a practitioner may be able to use these as the basis of a worthwhile strategy.
We have to be realistic, though, PCOS makes pregnancy difficult, whatever system of medicine you use to diagnose it. Our main concern is that you are not led into unnecessary time and expense for something which cannot help, and not diverted from conventional treatment which may ultimately be of benefit. Our members are responsible and safe practitioners, and if you visit one local to you, we hope that they are happy to see you for a short consultation, hopefully without charge, to determine whether the unique case which you represent in Chinese medicine terms is one for which they feel that treatment may offer some hope.
Q. I'm extremely interested in having facial/cosmetic accupuncture, I have reserached it feel it would be of huge benefit to me. However as I am on a low wage I wanted to know if there were any accredited accupuncture schools that could offer low cost, safe treatments done by the students? Please advise.
A. A number of the acupuncture teaching institutions offer low cost treatment for patients attending their student clinics, but we are not aware at this stage of any teaching institution which offers facial or cosmetic acupuncture as a part of its core curriculum. It may be possible to ask if this can be offered, however, and a full list of institutions accredited by the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board can be found at baab.co.uk.
Facial acupuncture/cosmetic acupuncture is something of a lively debating point within the profession at the moment. There is no doubt that it is popular, and many BAcC members attend postgraduate training courses to learn some of the special techniques involved. However, the consensus appears to be that it is best used in conjunction with treatment of the person as a whole, and that some of the underlying causes of the problems which manifest on the face need to be addressed as well.
There are now a number on non-acupuncturists being trained in and using the techniques of cosmetic acupuncture, and we have concerns, as we do with any short courses, about the standards of safe practice involved in this treatment. If you do choose to go ahead with treatment, we recommend that you check carefully what other primary training the person offering the treatment has. You also need to be aware that there is no agreed standard for this kind of treatment, and any claims that someone's training has been endorsed or accredited need to be examined with care.
Although there are one or two studies published in China (and in Chinese!) which have shown promising results, there is no hard evidence that acupuncture has been proven to have a strengthening effect on the heart. For conditions such as this acupuncture may well have a general supporting function, insofar as the basic premise of Chinese medicine is to treat the person, not the disease, but it would be alongside conventional treatment, complementary and not alternative.
What we can say with a good degree of certainty is that as long as someone continues with their conventional treatment there is very little likelihood of acupuncture causing any harm. The safety statistics for acupuncture in the UK are exemplary, and even across the globe and taking in all forms of sub-optimal practice the incidence of serious adverse events is very low.
Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine work from an entirely different knowledge base which looks at the overall functioning of the system rather than simply repairing the bits that go wrong. The symptoms which form the basis of a diagnosis in the West are used in Chinese medicine to underpin a diagnosis in entirely different terms, and the practitioner will aim to correct the imbalances and blockages which manifest as these symptoms. In that general sense there is a possibility of making everything function better.
This is not quite the same as claiming to help specific organs, and practitioners are cautioned at the beginning of their training to remember that an organ understood in Chinese medicine terms is not the same as the physical organ described in the West. It often embraces it, but includes a wide variety of other functions, not always physical. This is why Chinese medicine textbooks use the capital letter (Heart) to differentiate from the physical organ (heart).
The evidence from trials of acupuncture for urgency and frequency of urination are relatively positive, although the best evidence comes from studies in children and people who are recovering from a stroke. Balance is a different matter. There are a great many reasons why someone's balance may have been lost, ranging from neurological problems and minor infarcts (small strokes) in the brain to problems with the inner ear and occasionally something as trivial sounding as crystalline particles affecting the movement of the little hair-like sensors in the tubes of the inner ear. Research would have to be targeted on a specific cause, and it would be unwise to pass comment drawing on available research without knowing what the likely cause was.
From a Chinese medicine perspective there are some very well-defined syndromes which take the descriptions which patients give of their balance and urinary problems and make sense of them within the overall functioning of the body. In some cases there are distinct treatment protocols which have been developed over centuries to try to address these problems, and the trained practitioner will look for conformation from the signs which they observe in the pulse and tongue, as well as other symptoms which to a western medic may appear to be unrelated. Even if there is no clear cut pattern, Chinese medicine was initially premised on the belief that symptoms were only the expression of a complex set of inter-related imbalances in the system, and the practitioner's task was to use his or her skill to interpret the evidence they gathered and set about correcting imbalances in the simple belief that a system in balance does not generate symptoms.
Clearly the best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you to discuss with them whether acupuncture could be beneficial for your specific case. We hope that they will give you an indicative assessment which will help you to choose what your best treatment options may be.
In a word, no! And there is no evidence base of which we are aware for the use of crystals.
A number of very sincere people use things other than acupuncture needles on acupuncture points, sometimes even using the same Chinese medicine theories to underpin what they do, but acupuncture has survived and developed its reputation on the basis of inserting needles. Anything else isn't acupuncture.
Q. My husband Simon was diagnosed with double vision due to restricted blood flow to the nerve that moves the eye muscle which is one of the six that control eye movement. Please would you let me know whether acupuncture could have a beneficial effect as there seem to be few other treatment options.
A. There is no research of which we are aware about this very specific condition; even for the 'headline' conditions we find it difficult to achieve sufficient funding to run reasonable studies.
However, Chinese medicine works from an entirely different conceptual basis, called a paradigm in science-speak, which describes the flow of energies in the body, called 'qi' in Chinese but similar to other East Asian concepts like 'prana' and 'ki', and tries to understand disease in terms of a loss of balance of energies or occasionally of blockages. The tools of the trade - needles, moxa, cupping - are used to restore balance and unblock blockages.
In this respect any description of blockage invites an immediate and superficial response that this might be within acupuncture's range. The reality is, though, that it might or might not be the kind of blockage which is amenable to treatment, or it may be that this is part of a wider pattern of imbalance and requires a more systemic approach. Indeed, the earliest systems of treatment were often asymptomatic and premised entirely on the belief that symptoms were indicative of an overall imbalance and working at this level alone would take care of them. The skill of the well-trained practitioner lies in determining at what level to intervene.
This is one of those cases where there is no substitute for a brief face to face chat with the practitioner to get a more thorough assessment of whether acupuncture might be a good treatment option, and indeed whether there are other options which you may not have considered but which the practitioner knows of. Most BAcC members are happy to provide a small amount of time without charge to enable patients to make informed choices, and using the practitioner search function on our home page will generate a map and list of practitioners in your area.
Q. I am suffering from 1 trigger finger in each hand. Whilst one almost seems to be improving, the other is definitely getting worse. I am not over-keen to have a cortisone injection and wondered if acupuncture might help. If so, it would be helpful to have a guide as to how many sessions might be required.
A. The evidence for the use of acupuncture in the treatment of trigger finger is very thin, not because it doesn't work, but simply because it has not been well researched. The kind of problem which it represents can be described in the concepts and language of Chinese medicine, and this may offer a range of possible interventions. The majority of these will involve local needling but may also involve the treatment of the whole system if this is seen to be a specific occurrence of a much more widespread condition which causes tightness in tendons across the body.
For cases such as yours there is no substitute for visiting one of our members local to you to see exactly how your particular problem presents and whether in their view it may be treatable. We are certainly aware of members who have used direct treatment of the affected digits and stretching exercises to good effect but some cases may be more likely to respond than others, and it would require someone to see the finger before giving an informed assessment.
There is no easy way to estimate how many sessions will be required. What we ask members to do is to set measurable outcomes and to make sure that they review progress regularly to ensure that the patient is happy continuing treatment. Most practitioners set four or five sessions as the point at which to take a good look at progress and to decide how sustainable any achieved changes are.
The fact that one of the two problem fingers has started to mend is a very positive sign. However, there is no doubt that cortisone can be very effective, and there may come a point where it might be unwise not to seek the relief that this may offer.
Q. I recently had a trial session of acupuncture with a lady who is a member of the BAcC. She is a qualified practitioner (BSC, LicAC, MBAcC).
I am a regular blood donor, and my next session is due next week. However, I'm unsure whether they will let me donate as I have had acupuncture within the last 4 months. I have phoned the Blood Donor service but they were unable to advise me as they didn't have the BAcC on their 'list'.
A. I'm afraid that as the rules currently stand there is always a deferral period of four months before blood can be donated after acupuncture unless it has been delivered by a statorily regulated practitioner.
The BAcC fought long and hard to avoid this position after the previous certification scheme was dropped in an EU harmonisation programme. We pointed out at length that this meant that BAcC members, who receive years of training in safe practice, were deemed unsafe but an occupational therapist or anyone else on a statutory register could pick up needles and use them with no training, and their patients could give blood. However, SR means that someone's livlihood is at stake if they do not ensure they are properly trained, and this is seen as the best possible incentive to best practice. SR draws a very sharp line in the sand about who is and who isn't 'in.'
We estimate that this decision cost the National Blood Service about 10,000/15,000 regular donors at a time when they were appealing nationally because blood stocks were low.
The use of acupuncture for muscuko-skeletal problems such as this is widespread in both eastern and western versions of the treatment. Chinese medicine speaks of obstruction and blockage, western acupuncture speaks of trigger points in muscles which can cause all sorts of secondary problems. The points which they both use are often the same.
The one advantage which Chinese medicine has, however, is that it treats people, not simply the conditions which they have, and in this context it is interesting that there is nothing in your case history which suggests itself to you as a probable cause. This doesn't mean there hasn't been one - quite often a series of small injuries reach a critical mass and another small injury can tip the body over into quite a large symptom - but it would certainly interest a Chinese medicine practitioner to establish what the backdrop was against which this injury occurred. There can sometimes be a systemic reason for a problem which simply 'sticking needles in where it hurts' won't change in the long term.
Based on what you have said, however, it may well be worth giving acupuncture a go. Although it is not our role to promote other therapies,. it has to be said that you might well benefit from some form of pysiotherapy alongside the acupuncture. Patterns of poor use can establish quite quickly when there is a muscular knot like this, and some form of exercise routine is often very helpful to ensure that the problem gets resolved and stays resolved.
Our last membership survey in 2011 showed average figures of £50 for a first consultation and £40 for each subsequent session.
However, this doesn't allow for regional variations, and you might expect to pay more in London and possibly slightly less elsewhere. Ranges of £45-£70 for the first session and £30 -£50 for subsequent ones would be 90% accurate.
Keep up to date with our news or join the #acupuncture conversation
Thinking about trying acupuncture?
Have a look at our Frequently asked questions, browse our video testimonials or the Ask an expert area
63 Jeddo RoadLondon W12 9HQPhone: 020 8735 0400
Fax: 020 8735 0404