Gavin Erickson

Gavin Erickson

We have provided answers to other people's questions about tinnitus, insomnia and migraines on the site already, but what is interesting about your case is the mention of all three in the same presentation. One of the strengths of Chinese medicine, which operates from an entirely different knowledge base from conventional medicine, is that it can sometimes make sense of a group of named western symptoms in a way which would not make any sense to a western practitioner. This may point a Chinese medicine practitioner towards a particular syndrome or pattern which makes sense within the Chinese medicine framework and offers possible solutions within that same framework.



Tinnitus is a highly intractable condition, and the magazines put out by the support organisations testify to the fact that while one solution may work for somebody it rarely works for everybody. Some of the more symptom-based systems of Chinese medicine are equally clear about the relatively small number of cases which present a clear diagnostic pathway, and of these the kinds of 'full' symptoms such as high BP and migraine are not usual as accompanying symptoms.


The best course of action is to visit a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice on whether, with this background of related complaints, they believe that they might be able to help you. If you do decide to go ahead with treatment we would recommend that you keep your progress under constant review. Conditions like tinnitus are bad enough to encourage people to persist with treatment even when their practitioner wants to draw a line under the attempt, and we believe that a responsible practitioner will have the honesty to admit when there is no more that they can do.

Trigeminal neuralgia can be a totally debilitating and painkiller-resistant problem. Although we have had a number of anecdotal remarks from members that they have treated the problem successfully it would only be fair to say that an equal number report it as having not responded. As with tinnitus, another problem which proves remarkably treatment-resistant, the best that one can sometimes achieve is to make the condition a little more bearable.



However, Chinese medicine does operate from an entirely different conceptual basis from western medicine, and is premised on the even flow and balance of energy, called 'qi', in the body. Where serious pain exists this can sometimes be due to a straightforward blockage in the flow, and on occasions such as these there is some possibility that a few simple treatments may prove to be helpful. A well trained and professional practitioner would be able to tell you relatively quickly whether they thought there was some prevailing diagnostic sign which gave them confidence that treatment might be beneficial.


It is perhaps also worth bearing in mind that cranial osteopathy may help in cases like these. Structural alterations in the tempero-mandibular joint brought about by accidents, injuries and occasionally fairly agrressive dental procedures can generate neuralgia, and gentle manipulation may offer another possible solution.

The majority of cases of venous insufficiency involve the circulation in the lower limbs, and while there is very little specific western research on this, we have to remind people that Chinese medicine has dealt with problems liek this for centuries, and has a number of treatment strategies for problems in which this is one of the symptoms.



It is important to be aware that Chinese medicine operates from an entirely different conceptual basis in which the flow of energy, called 'qi' in Chinese, is central to the effective flow of all body fluids and to the overall balance of the system. The practitioner of Chinese medicine uses his or her skills to try to determine how the system is out of balance and then devises treatment strategies to correct imbalances. In some cases this is symptom led, and in other cases, the treatment is much more general, aimed at correcting the overall balance premised on the simple belief that when a system is in balance, symptoms repair themselves.


The best course of action is to visit a BAcC member local to you to seek their advice on whether your particular case makes sense from a Chinese medicine perspective and what they would advise. In many cases acupuncture would be an appropriate treatment, but there may be other options which a practitioner may recommend as better suited for what specifically troubles you.

Q. I am currently 30 weeks pregnant and my morning sickness has unfortunately started to return. My yoga teacher suggested acupuncture may help. I am epileptic and currently 8 months seizure free. Is there any evidence or suggestion that acupuncture can cause seizures?


A. There is no evidence or suggestion that acupuncture can cause seizures when patients with controlled epilepsy have treatment.

All BAcC members are extremely careful to ensure that the patient remains on the medication they have been prescribed. The only treatments which are proscribed involved the use of electroacupuncture on people with poorly controlled epilepsy, and the only advice we give is to ensure that anyone with poorly controlled epilepsy is not left unattended during treatment. This is simply a common sense precaution to avoid accidents if someone did happen to have a fit while they had needles still inserted.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012 12:32

I suffer from pcos on both ovaries...

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.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012 12:30

Cosmetic acupuncture

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


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.