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A: As you can imagine, we have been asked similar questions on several occasions, and a typical answer is:
A: The use of acupuncture for skin conditions is not particularly well researched, as our fact sheet shows:
There may be a number of reasons for this, one of which is that skin conditions form a 'fuzzy' set where the definition and location are not always precise enough to be testing like with like, a pre-condition of the randomised double blind control trial much loved by western science.
That said, there is a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence within the profession about good reactions to treatment, especially a reduction in the amount of itching and discomfort. One has to be cautious, however; a very common effect of initial treatment is a radical improvement followed by a settling back to nearly the same state as before. We have seen a number of people become even more disheartened when this has happened, even though we have said that short-term results are unlikely and if they appear usually unsustainable.
It has to be said, though, that the collective view inside the BAcC is that skin problems are usually best treated with a combination of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. There is something about the precision with which the formulae are designed and the daily routine of treatment which clearly seems to evince powerful changes in the system. Most members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine are also BAcC acupuncturists, and finding someone in your area who practises both may be a very good way forward.
Our best advice to you is to see if there are BAcC members local to you who also use Chinese Herbal medicine, and to see if they can offer you a brief face to face assessment of whether they believe tahat acupuncture and herbal treatment can help you.
We think that this remains the best advice that we can give. The only caveat which we sometimes add is that acupuncture is often used as a last resort, and before someone comes to us they have taken a large number of medications which can had added layer upon layer of secondary effects on the initial problem. The overall clinical picture can sometimes be a little more complex than one would hope to see. However, acupuncture treatment treats the person, not the condition, and the treatment is tailored to the needs of the individual to help their system restore its own balance and healing ability. The oldest forms of Chinese medicine were often asymptomatic, driven by the simple belief that a system in balance corrected symptoms. In clinical practice, an experienced practitioner can both treat the underlying cause and the symptoms at the same time to facilitate recovery.
We answered this question a while ago, and the answer we gave was:
As our factsheet says:
there has been very little research into the use of acupuncture for MS. There are many reasons for this, but very high up the list will be the fact that presentations of MS vary so differently and the outcomes are also difficult to measure.
One of the problems we often find in practice is that once someone has a disease condition with a label like MS or Parkinson's or Type 2 Diabetes, it is not uncommon to see this as the root of a great many physical and emotional problems, and in truth sometimes these conditions are, but there are times when a symptom is from an entirely different cause and eminently treatable.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, where each patient is unique and different, it is important to understand how each specific presentation arises from this same perspective. This does not mean that everything is curable if its start and progression can be plotted, but it might offer the possibility of slowing down the deterioration which can often result from these conditions. The ancient Chinese probably understood nerves, but not the microbiology of nerve structure and specifically the demyelination which characterises MS, so their attempts to understand the steady loss of function would have been understood in the changes in function of the Organs of the body as they, for example, no longer provided energy in the extremities, causing numbness and loss of sensation.
As we said, this does not mean that by switching perspectives one can find cures which conventional medicine cannot offer. It may, mean, however, that there may be treatments which can help to slow down the loss of function or even correct those symptoms which have arisen contingently and are not related to the MS.
Our best advice is always to contact a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice face to face; they will be far better equipped to offer options based on what they can see than we can at this remove.
We think that this still represents the best advice we can offer. However, since we published this answer there has been a systematic review of acupuncture treatment for MS
which is mildly positive, and if you look for outliers you can find occasional studies like this one
although it is only fair to point out that scalp acupuncture, like ear acupuncture, is a relatively modern development which has some roots in the classical tradition but owes more to empirical research in the 20th century.
Q: Is acupuncture good for overall health? I had acupuncture for IBS. However, I like using it once in a while now since I feel good overall. Is there any evidence indicating that going once every two months for example is good for overall health?
A: There is no evidence as such, at least in the terms in which we have to provide evidence to meet the requirements of the Advertising Standards Authority, but there are solid reasons for this. Most acupuncture research is condition based (does acupuncture help ?) and the gold standard of research, the randomised double blind control trial which is highly inappropriate for acupuncture treatment, is used as the criterion. This dismisses at a stroke hundreds of thousands of Chinese trials which are not as methodologically rigorous because they are less concerned with whether it works and more interested in what works better.
However, there are a number of researchers working in this field who use well-known outcome measures like the MYMOP scale which attempt to quantify patient satisfaction by converting qualitative statements of well-being into units which lend themselves to analysis. One of her recent publications, quoted here on a special interest group website
is particularly positive about the more general effects of acupuncture treatment, although mainly in the context of outcomes which were in addition to treatment of a main complaint. This is not quite the same as signing up for regular treatment in order to stay well, or better still, to improve overall. This was the aim of ancient Chinese acupuncture, where in fact the doctor was paid to keep the patient well, and the penalty for failing to do so was said to be to maintain the patient in the style to which he was accustomed. One of this expert's patients was strongly in favour of moving to this system until I pointed out that I had several millionaires on the books and in order to cover myself I'd have to raise my fees by a factor of ten.
The premise of traditional Chinese medicine was preventative. The ancient texts speak of the futility of 'digging a well when you are already thirsty or forging a spear after the battle had commenced', and in practice we often find that patients who have been attending for a long time on this basis get fewer illnesses and seem to recover more quickly than other people who are not maintained in this way. However, this is mainly an anecdotal finding; there is not a great deal of research to underpin it as a statement, and the outcomes may be entirely contingent.
However, the fact that you have benefited from treatment for a specific complaint probably means that regular treatment, both to avoid any recurrence of the problem and to feel better in yourself, may be well worthwhile.
We are a little short of information on which to offer a view! We're assuming that you probably mean the hormones associated with female fertility, and if so there are a number of factsheets to be found on our website
which deal with specific areas such as infertility, menstrual problems, and the like. Hopefully some of these may address some of the issues which your imbalances are causing.
A: In general terms, Chinese medicine is based on theories of the body, mind and emotions as a flow of energy called 'qi' whose rhythms, flow and balance determine the person's state of health and well-being. When symptoms appear it points to poor function in a number of areas, often associated with Organs of the body (which we always capitalise because the Chinese understanding of, say, the Liver is much broader than the liver organ in conventional medicine. The skill of the practitioner is in making sense of the whole pattern of symptoms against the backdrop of the overall balance, which can be assessed by a number of means, and then using the most elegant and economical way to bring the system back into balance. In Chinese medicine, a system in balance does not show symptoms, and so the act of balancing the system, even if it does not target the symptom, may nonetheless deal with it.
It also follows that each person is unique and different from a Chinese medicine point of view, so symptoms x and y are not necessarily arising from the same cause even if they are identical in two patients. This means treatment will also be geared to and tailor-made for each individual. The best advice that we can give is that you seek out a BAcC member local to you and see if they can spare a few moments to talk to you about the specific problems that you have and to give you a more considered view of what may be possible than we are able to here.
Q: I am interested to know whether acupuncture is a realistic option for my partners pain issues she experiences. She underwent a routine operation 18 months ago and contracted a serious infection which took a further three operations to gain control of. As such she has been left with nerve damage across her right flank which causes her debilitating pain. The NHS have run all the tests they can to get to the root of the pain including a further operation to clear some adhesions but it has all led to nothing. She is still in pain and now has been left to deal with taking Pregablin to help overcome the pain by blocking the nerves. It isn't working and we are looking for alternatives to help wherever possible. Does this sound like something acupuncture could help with as I have to be honest I know quite little about the therapy.
A: As you are no doubt aware from your own searches, acupuncture treatment has been used for a considerable time in pain management centres in conventional medicine, and has developed a considerable reputation for being an effective means of pain control, as our factsheet on chronic pain demonstrates:
The main reason for this is that adequate research is one of the criteria for the use of techniques within conventional medicine, and the fact that the neurotransmitters involved in pain are so easily monitored and measured lends itself to the gold standards of research. The usual question is not whether acupuncture works, but to what extent and how sustainable the effect is. Sadly this can sometimes become a financial issue: can someone afford frequent treatment to maintain a level of pain control?
Of course, it is not simply the control or management of the pain with which the practitioner will be mainly concerned. Within the theories of Chinese medicine, based on the understanding of the body as a flow of energy called 'qi', pain only arises where there is deficiency, excess or blockage in the energy patterns, and the practitioner will be looking not simply at the affected area but at the whole system to see whether the problem is local or a local manifestation of a systemic weakness. In your wife's case, though, the practitioner would probably take a very close look at the infection site and the subsequent operations which took place. There are times when the simple act of cutting tissue can cause a break in the flow of energy, and we have come across many cases where even a well-healed scar has blocked the flow in a channel. When you consider that there may well be thicker keloid scar tissue and adhesions as well as surface interruptions it is possible that acupuncture treatment may offer some hope.
Given the unique nature of each patient, and in your wife's case the unique nature of the problems she has had the best advice that we can give is that she arranges to see a BAcC member local to her for a brief assessment of the specifics of her problems. A face to face assessment may give a great deal more information and afford a better view than we can offer here. As for other options, we cannot suggest anything else, but it may well be that a practitioner seeing the problem may have ideas about what else may be possible. We all network a great deal to ensure that each patient gets the best treatment for them, even if it is not our own.
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