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Ask the Expert
Acupuncture is used by practitioners of all traditions - chinese medicine, conventional medicine, physiotherapy - for the treatment of muscle tension. Obviously the way that each explains the symptoms will be very different, as will the rationale for the treatments they give. Chinese medicine talks in terms of the flow of energy, called 'qi', and its balance, flow and rhythms, whereas the western medical practitioners will speak of knots in muscle or trigger points which need to be released. In many cases the needles will be applied to roughly the same places.
As practitioners of Chinese medicine we clearly believe that the lineage which Chinese medicine represents, with the wisdom of over two thousand years of treatment behind it, offers a better chance to understand not simply the problem but the backdrop against which it is set. Chinese medicine is emphatic that the symptom is not the same as the problem, merely a sign that something has gone wrong with the overall balance. If you correct a symptom without reference to the pattern in which it appears, there there is a chance that it will recur.
In the case of muscle tensions this is a little less likely, but the practitioner will be as interested in the way that the problem appeared as in the problem alone. There is a great deal of tension in the modern world and sometimes people have a pain in the neck because they live or work with one. Seeing how the probem has developed and is sustained by the system is important.
We always recommend that someone visits a BAcC member local to them because a bried face to face assessment by a skilled practitioner will elicit much better advice than we can give here about whether your particular presentation is suited to acupuncture treatment, or whether there are other forms of intervention that may help you more effectively.
Q: I wondered whether acupuncture is able to treat rosacea. I was diagnosed by my GP about one year ago. I have since tried creams and medications as suggested by my GP. Although I have seen some improvement in the condition it still remains present, largely on my head.
A: It's always a good indicator how well something responds to acupuncture to type the condition and 'acupuncture' into google and see what comes back. We have trawled the databases for evidence that there have been trials which have looked at how successful acupuncture treatment was for this condition, but there are very few in English. This does not mean that there are none at all; the Chinese conduct many thousands of trials each year, the vast majority of which are never translated. Where there are good ones, they tend to emerge quickly. Many suffer from methodological weaknesses, however; the Chinese know acupuncture works and want to assess what works better, whereas in the West we are still fixated on whether it works at all. This requires a much more rigorous level of trial with standards which many Chinese studies fail to meet.
However, the fact that there are no relevant trials does not mean that Chinese medicine cannot help. There is a vast difference between the way that conventional medicine and Chinese medicine address their patients, and while symptoms are the primary focus of conventional medicine, in Chinese medicine these are mainly relevant as indicators of deeper underlying imbalances which affect the whole system. Chinese medicine primarily treats the patient, not the disease. This may mean that a practitioner can, in your case, identify areas of weakness or imbalance which might be contributing to the symptoms which you have. Many people, indeed, turn to Chinese herbal medicine, which affords the possibility of daily treatment, something which can really help in bringing a stubborn long-term condition under control.
However, much research is stimulated by anecdotal evidence, and there isn't a great deal to be found on the internet suggesting that acupuncture is the treatment of choice of this condition. We think that you may well benefit from seeking the advice of a BAcC member local to you. This will at least alert you to the background against which your condition has developed, and may offer some useful suggestions about how best to avoid making the condition worse. If you did decide to give treatment a try, we recommend that you ensure that you set measurable targets and also review dates; long term chronic conditions can easily become a money pit unless one is very careful.
There may be some merit in finding a BAcC member who also uses Chinese medical herbs, not that difficult since the majority of RCHM members are also members of the BAcC, but we cannot give you an individual recommendation, we are afraid to say. From our perspective all BAcC members are equally well equipped in Chinese medicine skills to address any patient, and this means you can contact any with confidence that you will be getting an honest and informed assessment of how acupuncture may benefit you.
Q: I had an operation for a hernia about 2 years ago and my femoral nerve was tweaked, leading to almost complete loss of feeling in the front section of my left thigh. Previously this was just numb but now it often prickles like pins and needles and permanently aches below the surface of the skin, although there is still no surface "feeling". My GP said that nothing can be done and it will either go away or it won't. Will acupuncture be of any benefit in relieving my pain?
A: This is hard to answer. If the nerve has been damaged, and this is the source of the aches and odd sensations you are feeling, then acupuncture treatment is unlikely to have any effect. Although there is some evidence that smaller peripheral nerves regenerate and repair relatively quickly, the larger nerves appear to take longer and there is no evidence that any form of therapy, old or new, is likely to have an effect.
However, that said, acupuncture has been around for over 2000 years, and problems such as yours, the symptoms which are the same whatever system of medicine you apply, have been addressed by Chinese medicine practitioners within the context of their own system for all that time. Chinese medicine is founded on very differenet principles, all based on an underlying belief that body mind and spirit are alll manifestations of an energy called 'qi' whose rhythm, balance and even flow contributed to good health. Anything which blocked or changed that flow, whether locally or within the balance of the whole system, would cause symptoms, and the skill and art of the practitioner lay, and still lies, in finding out how they have arisen and correcting them. This doesn't always mean directly treating the symptom; if the problem is systemic the needles can sometimes be placed some way from where it hurts.
So, a practitioner faced with making sense of what you are experiencing will be looking at what local problems may have generated your symptoms, and from a Chinese medicine perspective that could extend to the cuts and tears of the operation itself which could in theory disturb the flow, and the overall backdrop against which the problem started. From a Chinese medicine perspective a hernia has significance as a symptom itself.
The only answer which will help determine whether acupuncture can help will come from a face to face assessment by a BAcC member local to you. By looking carefully at what is going on, they may well be able to offer you a better assessment of whether treatment may be of value than we can remotely.
Q: I have sprained the ac ligament in my shoulder. What can acupunctute do to speed up the healing process? My shoulder does not hurt with day to day activities, it stops me doing my normal fitness and sports.
A: This is a difficult question to answer. Tears in the acromio-clavicular ligament, like all shoulder ligament tears, can cause a generalised instability in the shoulder itself, so the fact that you have recovered normal day to day use is a very positive sign that things are healing well. There is also no doubt that acupuncture is widely used, both by practitioners of chinese medicine and by phsyiotherapists and sports injury therapists in the conviction that it does seem to speed up the healing and recovery process. There is not a great deal of evidence to support this use, but most of it is anecdotal and relies on the accounts of experienced practitioners and satsfied patients. 'Anecdotal' has become a rather pejorative word in modern times, suggesting that it has no firm foundation. We take the view, however, that it is an accumulation of anecdital evidence which is often the spur to more systematic research, and is worthy of greater respect.
How does this help you, then? Well, we can say with certainty that acupuncture will not do any harm, but there is no evidence we can offer you that it will definitely speed up healing. What we can say, however, based on our own experience, is that patients who are used to training often push themselves very hard to recover, and there is certainly plenty of evidence that the kind of micro-tears which this can cause need to repair for a longer period than most allows allow. We find that many patients push themselves hard to increase their maximum loads when they may be better served by shorter sessions within their limits to enable the ligament to recover. Otherwise it can be one step forward, half a step back, and this will slow the recovery process down.
You would do well to seek the advice of a BAcC member who will be able to offer you a face to face assessment of what acupuncture treatment might achieve, but you might be equally well advised to seek out a sports injury specialist who uses acupuncture within their overall strategy. Some of our colleagues might find this a little heretical, but our concern is for your well-being, and there is no doubt in our minds that this overall treatment needs to be overseen by someone with experience of getting sports people back to full health.
Q: have trouble with my hands shaking involuntary and have been issued with blood pressure tablets to take when needed. I find it worse when I am amongst strangers. would acupuncture help?
A: We are assuming that you have been given a thorough physical and neurological examination, and that the shaking is not a symptom of a wider pattern. If you haven't, then without wishing to sound alarmist, it would be a good idea to ask your doctor for this to be arranged.
As you may have realised by looking at our website, acupuncture is based on an entirely different set of principles and theories. The central one is that the body, miond and spirit are all made up of a single energy, called 'qi' in Chinese, whose flow, balance and rhythms are the foundation of good health and functioning. Symptoms which are used in conventional medicine to provide what doctors call a differential diagnosis play the same role in Chinese medicine, except that the background against which they are seen is very different and uses a language which is at one and the same time precise yet sounding strange and even simplistic to the western ear. Symptoms like yours are not new, and when they have appeared over the last two thousand years practitioners of Chinese medicine have used the growing body of knowledge and skill in their tradition to make sense of them. Even when there is no specific pattern to guide their treatment, we must not forget that Chinese medicine in its basic form was less concerned with the symptom than with the overall balance. The belief was, and still is, that the symptom is only an alarm bell, not the problem itself, and the skill of the practitioner lay in putting the whole system in order as best they could.
How does this help you? Well, in essence it means that a Chinese medicine practitioner will see your symptom in its wider context, and may be able to find a direct causal link to a pattern of imbalance which might be correctable. There may also be significant areas of imbalance, the treatment of which might correct symptoms. The best advice we can give you is to visit a BAcC member local to you to ask for a brief face to face assessment of what they might be able to do. It is very important with symptoms such as these to be very clear about outcomes and have something which is measurable to assess progress. Conditions like this can come and go to a degree, and if you are spending money on treatment you need to know whether it is working.
In this 'expert's' personal view, involuntary shaking can prove quite intractable to acupuncture and not always that responsive to conventional medication. Since beta blockers (on the assumption that this is what you have been given) can have a number of tiresome side effects, you need to be sure that they are having an effect if you are continuing to take them. Since they have been prescribed by your GP you should not stop them without speaking to a doctor first, or at least you should make sure that you have a review period after which you can assess their value. Doctors sometimes need to demonstrate that a patient has gone the full course before they can move to the next stage of examination and treatment.