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Q:   My uncle has just completed treatment for bowel cancer and he's suffering really badly with burning hot feet. I asked a family friend, who is an acupuncturist, if she thought treatment would help. She seemed to know the symptoms I'd described and called it 'something' syndrome (I can't remember what the name of it was and now I'm not able to get back in touch with her to clarify). Is this something that you are familiar with and could you offer any advice - including if there are any specialists in this area in the north west of England?

A:  While we admire our colleague's diagnostic prowess (!), we'd have to say that the symptom has to be seen in the wider context of the patient's overall patterns of energy. While there may be one or two syndromes where this symptom is central to the diagnosis, it is always possible that it is a secondary reaction to a deeper underlying pattern which could only really be identified by looking very carefully at all aspects of someone's functioning.

We don't know exactly what treatment your uncle has had, although very often it involves surgery and chemotherapy, and occasionally radiotherapy, but we do know that it usually has significant effects on the whole system, and that includes body, mind and emotions. It is really important to be able to assess first hand what effects it has had. This is why in Chinese medicine the same symptom can be treated in dozens of different ways. Even in conventional medicine the great Canadian physician William Osler famously said 'it is more important to find out what patient has the disease than what disease the patient has.'

The best course of action for your uncle is to visit a BAcC member local to him to see if they can give him a brief face to face assessment of whether in their view he would benefit from treatment. The great majority are willing to do this without charge in order to give the patient as much information as possible before they commit to treatment. There are no specialists in this field, but this is not because of the field but because of the nature of Chinese medicine which treats the person, not the named condition. In reality, though, so common is cancer and its treatment in modern times it would be unusual to find a practitioner who has not had experience of treating someone who is recovering after cancer treatment.

Q:  I suffer from recurrent episodes of sinusitis, which leaves me with a blocked nose and extreme headache and facial pain, often for several days/weeks at a time. I am reluctant to use medication and prefer to treat with menthol and steam which is time-consuming and often inconvenient. Can you tell me whether acupuncture has been proven to treat sinusitis?

A:  We sympathise; this 'royal we' used to suffer similarly as a child, and it is surprising how little other people regard this as a debilitating problem, preferring to see people as 'a little blocked up.' It's far worse than that.

We have produced a factsheet

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/sinusitis.html

which is disappointing in terms of hard evidence, because there isn't really very much. What we do find in clinical practice is that this sort of problem is very often to do with an underlying systemic problem with the fluids of the body as a consequence of which really bad blockages occur locally. Treatment, therefore, involves trying to use needles where the problem is to restore the proper flow of energy and then treating the system as a whole to ensure that what has been unblocked stays unblocked.

Chinese medicine has a very sophisticated view of the workings of the body mind and spirit as an interconnected flow of energy, and the practitioner's role is to look at the whole picture to find out what is going on. Symptoms are rarely the same as the problem itself, more often than not being alarm bells for problems elsewhere. Chinese medicine also extends to looking at the factors which contribute to problems, especially to do with diet and lifestyle, and it is highly likely that a practitioner would look at issues like this to be taken into account alongside treatment.

The best advice we can give, because each person is unique and different, is to visit a BAcC member local to you for advice. What we would say, though, based our own clinical experience is that this is the sort of problem which can be difficult to shift with acupuncture treatment, and it is very sensible if you decide to go ahead to set very clear review periods to assess what change there has been and to try to agree measurable outcomes for improvement. This helps to ensure that the treatment doesn't run away unchecked to twenty or thirty sessions without result because a kind of 'habit' sets in.

Q: My doctor has told me that my partner can do the acupunture on me he showed him last week then gave us some needles and packed us on our way. I  thought you had to be qualified.  I am a  bit nervous about letting him do this on me with no experience. Do you think i should go back to the doctor.?

A:Our first thought when we read this was to think 'how irresponsible' but having walked around the block and counted to ten we recalled a number of circumstances of which we are aware where patients have been given needles for self-treatment. In several cases this has been to deal with something truly unpleasant, like post-chemotherapy nausea, and we would be the last people to stand in the way of the relief which good treatment can bring.

Our main concern is that the person administering the treatment knows exactly what they have to do, makes absolutely sure that they follow the rules for hygienic procedure, and knows how to dispose safely of the used needles, which must go into a sharps box immediately after use. I It is also highly advisable that the person giving the treatment has at least a rudimentary idea of what could go wrong and what to do if it does. Needles sometimes get stuck, for example, and there are simple ways of removing them when they do. Points occasionally bleed or start to bruise. Again, there are simple procedures for what to do. The skill is as much in knowing what to do when things go wrong as much as knowing what to do in the first place.

If you are not happy with the information which the doctor has given, then ask for more along the lines we have suggested. We're not sure what the needles are being offered for, so we can't really offer alternatives if you are really worried about needles.

However, what we can say with absolute conviction is that acupuncture remains one of the safest therapies around, with minimal side effects and a very low incidence of adverse events. Even in the hands of the untrained bad outcomes are very rare, and we are sure that if there is a good reason to use the needles it would be good for you to do so. Some of our colleagues take a very different view, but we believe that a positive experience, even using rudimentary treatments, can point people towards more sophisticated treatments in the future if there outcomes have been met by acupuncture before

A:As you can see from our factsheet

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/vertigo.html

the research into the use of acupuncture treatment for vertigo is relatively positive, not yet quite good enough for us to meet the ASA's criteria for an unqualified recommendation but certainly heading in that direction.

The key thing to remember is that Chinese medicine treats the person, not the symptom. This can mean that twenty people who are diagnosed with the same conventionally labelled condition might each be treated differently with acupuncture. The symptom is usually seen as the alarm bell for deeper patterms of disharmony, and it is these which the practitioner will try to address. This involves looking at all aspects of the way that the body and mind are working, and using this information, together with some diagnostic procedures unique to Chinese medicine, to form a diagnosis and treatment plan.

The best advice we can give, since each case can present in its own unique way, is to visit a BAcC member local to you and seek a brief face to face assessment from them of whether acupuncture treatment may be beneficial. We always hesitate to use the word 'cure', though. There are many occasions where the word 'manage' is more suitable, a process where the symptoms are kept under control but may require regular treatment to maintain this state. This is very much within the ethos of Chinese medicine as it was devised and first practised, aimed at keeping the patient well rather than getting the patient better. The latter was seen by the Chinese as a failure, like 'digging a well when you're already thirsty or forging a spear after the battle has started', and ancient Chinese medicine was intended to be preventative. This is very much part of the message which we try to put across in our literature, and why we believe it is a very fitting traditional medicine for modern times.

Q: For the last 3 yrs or so I have had acupuncture, for carpal tunnel issues, from my physiotherapist. It's been a very effective. She is on maternity leave and has a replacement.  I suspect that the replacement has made an error and left a needle in my arm. I have had pain in my arm for 6 weeks since my last visit. Is there a risk to my health from pieces of needle  Do I need to take measures to have it removed? It maybe that nothing is in there and this is just a side effect of poor treatment.

The first and most important thing to say is that if you believe that a needle or piece of needle is stuck in your arm, you need to have the arm X-rayed as a matter of urgency. We would be very surprised if this was the case, given that the standard of needle manufacture is very high these days and given that it would require a negligently careless practitioner to insert a whole needle into an arm or even for a whole needle to be accidentally embedded and not checked in the count of needles used. However, stranger things have happened, and an X-ray will very rapidly establish whether there is something physically stuck there.

A: The risk from a piece of broken needle in the body is minimal. The materials themselves are not toxic, although a very small number of people are allergic to the needles. The only risk would be if the piece of metal migrated by entering a blood vessel large enough to transport it around the body. This is highly unlikely, especially when you bear in mind the kinds of stories ex-servicemen tell of pieces of shrapnel which have been stuck in the same place for 50 years. If there were to be a piece of needle stuck in you, though, it would require minor surgery, probably under local anaethetic, to remove it.

The more likely outcome is that the treatment has nicked a very small blood vessel and caused a minor haematoma/bruise under the skin surface but adjacent to the nerves travelling in the area. The internal 'scab' that this may form will press on surrounding tissue for as long as it takes to heal, and this can be anything from one to six weeks. Carpal tunnel syndrome already involves considerable pressure on the nerves and blood vessels travelling to the wrist, and anything which adds to the compression in the area is undoubtedly going to exacerbate matters. However, once again, we have to say that if a problem continues to aggravate after this length of time, there has to come a point where you have to see your GP and start to arrange the investigations necessary to determine what is going on.

In all of this, your practitioner should be a resource to you. The good practitioner will be just as concerned as you about the fact that you have experienced six weeks of discomfort, and will almost certainly be as keen as you are to find out exactly what is gping on. We think you would be well advised to contact either the practitioner or your GP within the next week or so to get to the bottom of what is happening here.