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Vulvodynia is a particularly painful and distressing condition. Unfortunately it has not been very well researched, and the two articles which are most frequently cited
are not enough to satisfy the requirements for making a positive recommendation. An article published by one of our members in an acupuncture journal mentions it in passing as a condition often associated with interstitial cystitis
Interestingly, however, when this was recently posted as a topic on one of our members' forums for discussion there was very little 'chatter', which probably indicates that it is not frequently being treated.
This does not mean that it may not in your case be treatable. The strength of Chinese medicine lies precisely in its ability to connect apparently unrelated symptoms and make sense of them according to treatment protocols which have been developed over thousands of years. Visiting a practitioner local to you for a brief consultation to see whether in your case acupuncture may help may be the best course of action.
Q. I have three "issues" (!) that I think acupuncture may help to overcome: addiction to micotine, generalised anxiey and also I am trying to become "more fertile", after a bad miscarriage 6 years' ago. Obviously, smoking isn't helping on either the pregnancy or anxiety front. Can you tell me whether acupucture is particulrly successful re. stopping smoking?
A. The evidence for acupuncture helping people to stop smoking, either traditional acupuncture or ear acupuncture, is not that great. This was certainly the case when the BMA researched conditions for which acupuncture was effective over a decade ago, and nothing new in the field of acupuncture research has been published since to change that view.
However, research for areas such as nicotine addiction or stress tends to employ a model of treatment which is rarely similar to the ways in which a traditional acupuncturist normally works. The use of formula points, the same ones applied time and time again, does not square with traditional treatment which is developmental and evolutionary - the results from a session help the practitioner to refine the diagnosis and inform amendments to how they treat the patient on the next visit. This is all premised on a system of Chinese medicine which aims to balance energies in the body in the simple belief that a system in balance tends to see a reduction in the symptoms which arise from underlying disharmony. Various forms of addiction, anxiety states and system failures are seen as the alarm bells of disease, and treatment is aimed at correcting the underlying patterns.
It is often worthwhile talking directly and in person to a practitioner to get a sense of whether your own individual case is something which they believe they might be able to help. Using our 'find a practitioner' search on the website or your local Yellow Pages should identify a number of BAcC members working in your area.
Although a number of studies, such as
have shown some interesting and positive results for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, the more recent systematic review
is not that encouraging. In many cases it is the methodological flaws in the studies themselves which mean that they cannot be taken as solid evidence. Anecdotally the BAcC is aware that some patients benefit considerably from their treatment, but there are just as many for whom the treatment does not appear to work and for whom steroid injections and/or an operation are the only options which offer some help.
The best advice, since from a Chinese medicine perspective all cases are unique and different, is to see if you can arrange a short consultation with a practitioner local to you to get their view on whether your particular case may be amenable to treatment. If you did so and opted to go ahead with treatment we would recommend that the outcomes are very clear, as well as the interim review periods. Obstinate conditions, of which this is one, sometimes lend themselves to the development of 'habit treatment' where progress is minimal but hope gets the better of experience.
The BAcC home page section marked Research has a sub-heading 'fact sheets' in which you can find an assessment of the value of acupuncture for treating stress in general and anxiety as one of its most common manifestations.
Factsheet on stress is viewable here
Factsheet on anxiety is viewable here
Acupuncture used to be very widely regarded as no more than a technique for reducing stress and pain, but opinion was sharply divided between those who thought the benefits were largely non-specific - being given time and attention, being listened to, lying down relaxing for half an hour - as much as the needles themselves. This is still the case now, and the words 'placebo effect' are used somewhat disparagingly about apparent successes of acupuncture. As one of the senior medical acupuncturists in the UK said, however, if both acupuncture and the 'sham' acupuncture used in a major trial outperform conventional treatment, that has got to be worth investigating.
Stress is such a wide-ranging and inclusive term that it is very difficult to give a blanket answer. In most cases we advise people to seek advice locally and in person for their specific needs, except in those cases where we are sure that acupuncture will not help or may even be contra-indicated, but in this case that is the only answer we can give. How stress presents in your life and what the main presenting causes are can have a huge bearing on how well it can be treated. If someone is trapped in a job they hate with an unpleasant boss whom they have to put up with to pay a large mortgage, there is nothing that treatment can do to change the material circumstances and possibly the best it can manage is to reduce the impact of these day to day vexations. Where the causes are more internal it may be possible to achieve more. Speaking directly to one of our members is the best course of action.
Acupuncture should not be used as the primary treatment for cancers of any kind. Our advice to members is that if they treat people with cancers the treatment cannot be described as helping to treat the cancer, nor should they create any expectations in the patient that cure or remission are possible. We would be extremely concerned if anyone did not avail themselves of all the possible support available from conventional medicine because they had been led to believe that acupuncture could replace the normal treatment.
It is true, however, that many people choose to use acupuncture alongside the conventional treatment as a part of their strategy for dealing with the disease, and there are some symptoms arising from the cancers for which there is evidence that acupuncture is beneficial. One of the leading American acupuncturists and authors, Bob Flaws, has published a number of articles such as
which describe how a Chinese medicine practitioner may use herbal medicine alongside conventional treatment for lymphomas. He is something of a visionary and trailblazer, however, and the research which we quotes is as yet very limited. There is undoubted scientific interest in this kind of approach, with the Chinese in particular looking at the integrated use of traditional and conventional medicine.
Q. Can acupuncture help elbow bursitis?
A. Elbow bursitis has not been researched as much as tennis elbow, so there isn't a great deal that we can say that is backed up by research. In general terms, although Chinese medicine has a large number of very subtle diagnostic categories and observations some of its basic premises are expressed in very much more simple terms. This are described 'in excess' or 'deficient', or 'blocked', and often the parts of the body which generate symptoms are classified according to whether there is 'heat', 'cold' or 'dampness' in the area. This may sound rather alien to the western ear, but these categories are often wonderfully descriptive of things look and feel to the sufferer, and of course they are backed by treatment protocols which aim to correct them.
Bursitis can be understood within Chinese medicine by employing this kind of categorisation, and if you visit a properly trained practitioner who can both examine how things are and perhaps how the problem arose in the first place they can give you an honest assessment about whether your specific case is amenable to treatment
Q. I have persistent tingling and numbness in my right hand not painfull but very irritating.. Had scans, tests to no avail would acupuncture help?
A. Practitioners in the BAcC often have patients come to them after all the western tests have been done and nothing has been found, because they've heard or read that the symptoms which they describe are a part of the disease patterns understood within Chinese medicine. It is certainly the case that some patterns describe numbness and tingling in the hands as a symptom, but equally true that many people experience symptoms like these where none of the usual accompanying signs occur and for which treatment would not be as straightforward or as likely to be of benefit.
Chinese medicine has developed over thousands of years, and offers many different ways of intervening to put someone's system back in order. Symptoms such as yours may be evidence of local disturbance which might benefit from local treatment, or they may result from major functional imbalances and require more work. The best way to establish whether acupuncture would be appropriate would be to visit a BAcC member who can offer you a better assessment based in their own observations about whether your particular case has some clearcut features which suggest that acupuncture might work well.
Q. Have sucessfully had acupuncture for fertility issues. Now in peri- menopause and can't get on with HRT or Prozac. Now cold turkey and hot flashes few and far between. Major issue is the mood swings - I am becoming increaslingly difficult to live with (ask my husband, kids and dog!). Can acupuncture help in this area?
A. There's no doubt that the research for treating menopausal symptoms is not conclusive, as our factsheet shows but with the wide variety of symptoms which women experience designing good trials is not that straightforward.
One of the great strengths of Chinese medicine, though, is that it can offer an understanding of groups of symptoms in a way which would make no sense in western medicine but which would be immediately clear from the Chinese understanding of functions in the body and their relative levels of balance. A skilled practitioner may be able to make sense of what you are experiencing and attempt to adjust the balance to reduce the severity of the symptoms.
The fact that you have had acupuncture before and that it has worked for you is very encouraging. Many people find that they are very receptive to one form of treatment over others, and this can often transfer to new symptoms which arise.
The first ever Acupuncture Awareness Week launches on Monday 27 February 2012 and will attempt to dispel the many myths still surrounding acupuncture.
Recent research has revealed that over 21 per cent of the British public think acupuncture needles are as large as the needles used for regular injections. Not true! But it just goes to show that in spite of Chinese medicine’s ever increasing popularity, there are still a whole host of common misconceptions surrounding this ancient form of treatment.
Q. My niece suffers from epilipsey and i wondering if Acupuncture might be able to help her?
A. The current evidence for the treatment of epilepsy with acupuncture is not that encouraging. A revised Cochrane Review
of trials and studies concludes that there is not a great deal of success, and other more recent trials tend to say the same. Anecdotally there are reports of patients coming off medication with the help of their practitioners and the consent of their GPs, but epilepsy manifests in many forms and it would be impossible to offer any general advice. The best course of action would be, if your niece is on medication, to discuss with the GP whether a reduction or change in medication was possible at all, as a first step, and then discuss with a well-trained practitioner how they might support that process.
The treatment of any condition for which a person may be taking essential prescribed medication has to be handled with great care. The BAcC often gets questions from people who have been taking medications for many years to control their epilepsy and believe that they would probably be OK without it, based on periods where they have simply neglected to take it and not suffered any ill effects. Our advice has always been that in this particular case, it is absolutely essential that the person's GP be involved in any discussion about changes to the medication. One highly salient point is that many people only continue to hold driving licences on the basis that they are fit-free and on medication. Any reduction in medication which led to a fit and caused an accident would probably invalidate their insurance and constitute a criminal offence.
As far as using acupuncture as a primary treatment for epilepsy is concerned, however, we would be reluctant to endorse its use as a primary and sole therapy. However, there is no evidence to suggest that acupuncture interferes with the treatment of controlled epilepsy, whether that control is through medication, diet or lifestyle, and many people use acupuncture treatment alongside their existing routines. It might be beneficial to seek the advice of a BAcC member local to your niece to see what they might be able to offer. As you will see from the answers to many of the questions on this site, acupuncture works from an entirely different perspective from western treatment, and there may be ways in which a practitioner may feel that they can help from within that perspective.