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Ask the Expert
A: We are not aware of any reason why someone with polycythaemia should not have acupuncture, and we have checked with our GP colleagues that this is also their understanding.
There is no evidence that we can find which suggests that acupuncture has been used to treat polycythaemia, although we are sure that there must have been many patients over the years with PV who have had treatment without harm. Chinese medicine obviously rests on an entirely different theoretical basis from conventional medicine, and blood disorders are recognised in a language that may sound strange to the west - blood stasis, blood deficiency, and so on - but we are unaware of any direct correlation between the symptoms of PV and Chinese medicine treatment.
We are confident, however, that there should be no problems arising from the use of acupuncture in someone whose PV is well-controlled by conventional means.
Q: I had acupuncture about 9 months ago. When she stuck the needles in my neck and turned them it hurt. Ever since I have experienced problems with my neck in the same places. Could this be undone? ie turn back the needles
A: Lovely as it would be to rectify a problem by simply doing the reverse of what appeared to cause it we are afraid that this is not a possibility. The first thing to establish is what exactly has happened. Although there can be adverse effects arising from acupuncture treatment, nearly all of them, including the ones which cause minor physical injury like bruising or irritation of a nerve, resolve quite quickly. The fact that something has persisted for this long means that it warrants further investigation to establish what has happened.
The first thing to do, if you have not done so already, is to see your GP and seek his or her advice on what investigations it may be worth doing to see if there has been physical damage as a consequence of treatment. Your describe them as though there is a direct causal relationship, so if there has been damage you will need to know what. Depending on the severity of the pain this might then lead to a referral to an orthopaedic consultant or a rheumatologist, and/or a scan. Once they have established what has happened, they can sort out what treatment may be necessary.
We can't tell from your question whether you returned to the acupuncturist and what their take was on what happened, and especially what they did to try to rectify the situation. In some cases the problem can be one to do with energy (a blockage or disturbance cvaused by treatments) which further treatment can resolve.
If there is an injury which has caused or continues to cause pain and requires investigations all UK acupuncturists who belong to proessional associations are fully and properly insured, and the practitioner can give you the contact details of their insurers if you want to make a claim. If the practitioner is a BAcC member, you can get the details of our professional insurance by calling or e-mailing our main office in London.
We hope that you manage to establish what has happened and that the problem is treated successfuly.
Q: My husband has just been diagnosed with unilateral vocal chord paralysis caused by a virus. His voice is vey weak and hoarse and surgery is not an option for at least a year. Does acupuncture work for this condition?
A: There are a relatively small number of studies which report successed in treating vocal cord paralysis, two examples of which are
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The abstracts of the papers do not cite the exact treatments used, and both speak of acupuncture being used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. In one paper, as is commonly found to be the case, the use of acupuncture alongside the conventional treatment appears to speed up the patient's recovery. However, it is best to consider these papers as indicative rather than conclusive; there are no large scale studies which make a confident prediction possible. A great deal will also depend on the extent of the cordotomy. The operation is not supposed to interfere with a patient's vocal capacity if they recover naturally, but as with all surgical procedures there is an inherent risk that some of the changes are not reversible.
We suspect that some of the treatment offered in the studies was local, i.e. in the area near the problem, and this can often be very effectively in stimulating a return to good function. However, a practitioner may well want to establish whether this is simply a local problem or whether this is the tip of a much larger iceberg - this would have implications for how much treatment may be required and whether it is worthwhile attempting to address this as a local issue if there is a backdrop of much more extensive imbalance.
If we were being brutally honest we would say that treatment may be more in hope than in expectation, but acupuncture treatment has a reputation for occasionally achieving unexpected but significant results,. so we would be happy to advise you to seek a face to face assessment with a BAcC member local to you who can give you a much better assessment by looking at the problem and your father's health in the round.
Your husband's situation is not quite so drastic as this case, and there may be some greater hope that treatment may encourage a return of some of the lost function. Acupuncture treatment will certainly not do any harm, and since there are a number of functional disturbances seen from a Chinese medicine perspective which impionge directly on the effective use of the voice, it may be that an experienced practitioner can see a direct intervention which may help. Even in the absence of a direct connection, the underlying premise of Chinese medicine, the treatment of the patient rather than the illnss, may offer some possibility of a speedier recovery.
It is best to talk to a BAcC member face to face, though, to get a more accurate assessment of whether acupuncture treatment may be of benefit, and we are confident that you will receive honest and impartial advice.
My wife is prone to keloid scaring and has a keloid scar on her upper arm from her childhood vaccination. She is thinking of having acupuncture treatment for pain in her shoulders but is worried the acupuncture needles will cause keloid scaring. Is there a risk that keloid scaring could develop from the acupuncture? She has been advised to avoid tattoos and piercings for this reason and wondered whether it would be the same with acupuncture.
Oddly enough, acupuncture is sometimes offered as a treatment for keloid scarring. An article in Acupuncture in Medicine, the journal of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, has an interesting case study
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showing a remarkable turnaround in a large scar. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the scar is often a cause of a weakening of the flow of energy in the system, and the kind of technique used in this article is often used to encourage the restoration of good flow, often with immediate results.
Based on what we have seen over the years, we think it is highly unlikely that the kinds of skin puncture caused by an acupuncture needle, at 0.18 to 0.25 mm in width, would be likely. The 'holes' close over almost immediately and there is rarely any blood loss, which can hardly be said about tattooing and piercing. If you have any doubts at all, however, we are confident that a responsible practitioner would be happy to talk to your GP and also perhaps even insert a couple of needles in a test area out of sight as an experiment to see if your wife's was a rare case in which any skin piercing caused the formation of keloid scarring.
A: As you can imagine this is a question we have been asked before. The answer we gave last year was:
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.
This advice still holds good. We would like to say that the anecdotal evidence is good, but sadly it isn't. For some people, it appears that paying money to a health professional being told off or worse, being the object of disappointment, for smoking seems to work, but our sense is that the exact nature of the therapy is less important than the ritual involved. For many people, the attendance at a clinic is to meet someone else's need, and they light up as soon as they get outside.
The last five years has seen a great deal of additional help available within the NHS, however, and if you haven't trawled through the information available and the various support mechanism in place, these are well worth a visit.