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Q: Can acupuncture help to repair nerve damage after a spinal injury? I'm asking specifically in relation to a lower (sacral) spinal injury and associated incontinence.
A: There are precious few studies of this problem. One of the few, which is too small from which to draw too many conclusions,
dates from 1998, and a second study from over a decade ago
uses some quite all-purpose formula treatments and seems to generate some interesting but unspecified results.
Generally speaking a great deal depends on the nature of the cause of the problem. If the spinal nerves were damaged by an accident there is usually a great deal less that can be done than when the problem is caused by a problem like collapsed discs or crushed vertebrae.
Nerve regeneration is a hot topic at the moment, with considerable optimism being placed in the concept of neuroplasticity. While we have seen some interesting case histories involving re-wiring taking place in the brain damage to the spinal cord does not seem to have been tested yet. There are some lab tests on animals using acupuncture to stimulate nerve regeneration, what out colleagues disparagingly describe as 'ratpuncture', but even if this were to show positive results it would not be conclusive that similar treatment would work with a human.
The best advice we can give, especially in cases like yours, is to visit a local BAcC member to get a brief face to face assessment of what might be possible given your own unique and specific circumstances. This will be far more accurate than any view we can advance from here without seeing exactly what is happening. The system which we use is based on a theory of the flow of energy, and if a practitioner sees blockages in major pathways of flow there may be something which acupuncture can achieve. There are occasions, for example, where physical damage can affect a nearby pathway of energy in such a way as to cause a functional disturbance which looks to all intents and purposes as though it were directly caused by the original injury.
Q: What is the name or style of the very short acupuncture needle with a spiral circle shape at one end that was left in my back and was covered with warerproof tape? I had 8 of that type of wonderfully relieving needles inserted into my lower back muscles close to both sides of my spine starting at L5 spaced upwards a little over an inch away from each other.,There was an immediate relief of pain, giving me the ability to turn over and sit up straight on the doctor's table with no pain or restrictions. There was no pain getting dressed or even putting my shoes or socks on. I was abke to wash dishes with no burnning, lightly rake leaves, play the piano without having to stop after 15 minutes due to that burning, debilitating pain. I left them in for as long as the tape would hold, a little over two weeks with no pain at all. I was in California visiting relatives when I received the needles from the acupuncturist and should have kept her information, but I lost it otherwise I would've called her back. Is a person allowed to put needles in one's own back because I cannot find an acupuncturist in Massachusetts who will leave the needles in for me.
A: These needles are called press needles. They have a taped back so that the needle can be inserted and left in place. These tend to be more associated with some of the Japanese styles of acupuncture where slightly less deep insertion and less needle action tend to be the norm. Your best bet is to try to find someone in the area who does this, and although we are in the UK and not really that aware of the distances involved, when we typed 'Japanese Acupuncture Massachusetts' into google it offered as the primary recommendation Kiiko Matsumoto, an internationally renowned practitioner for whom we have great respect in the UK. Her lectures and seminars here are always over-subscribed. We are absolutely confident that she will be able to recommend someone, if not herself, who can replicate the success of your earlier treatment.
We are not fully conversant with the local licensing issues on Massachusetts, but one major problem with leaving needles taped in situ is that the tape is not always that enduring, and when someone gets wet, or sweats heavily which can happen in the lower lumbar area, the tape can detach. Many practitioners are justifiably concerned that a needle which drops off and on which someone then stands by accident could be the source of a claim for damages. Anyone who stepped on a dislodged needle would be pretty much able to blame anything on that for years to come.
We wouldn't recommend putting needles in yourself. Although there has been a tendency for formula acupuncture to be on the increase over the last decade, there are some very powerful points in the back which may have an unwanted effect on the system as a whole. For a long time we have been quietly critical of doctors who use a specific point to treat tennis elbow without accepting that the point can often dramatically reduce blood pressure if over-stimulated. Treatment really needs to be done by a professional who both knows what they are doing and also knows what to avoid.
Q: My wife had acupuncture yesterday and has a small bruise on her left arm but more worryingly the vein from this bruise has started to show a darker colour. Is this anything to worry about?
A: The most likely cause of the darkening of the vein is that the bruised tissue is causing a slight restriction in the area which is backing up the flow of blood in the veins of the arm. This is somewhat akin to the way that nurses sometimes use pressure to make a vein more prominent for the purpose of administering an injection. As the bruises go down, so the vein will start to flow more easily and its colour return to normal. This video on Youtube with its somewhat bizarre musical soundtrack
shows what is done.
The only circumstance in which you might need to be concerned is if the bruising goes down and the vein continues to be prominent, or if the extent of visible vein appears to be increasing. In either case it might be wise then to visit your GP to have the area looked at. You may find that the practice nurse would be qualified enough to offer a view, and this may eb far quicker than trying to get a GP appointment.
You might also want to alert the practitioner to what has happened. This would provide useful information about where and to what depth the needle(s) was inserted. This would help to inform the assessment of what is going on.
In short, though, very probably nothing to be worried about but normal monitoring would be worthwhile, as we're sure will be the case anyway.
Q:I have suffered from insomnia for 25 years. I had acupuncture 20 years ago which did help me sleep eventually for a year. Since then I have tried hypnotherapy, counselling and I am on and off sleeping tablets which make me feel groggy. I am now re looking at acupuncture but I am not sure who to see? The previous acupuncture clinic of 20 years ago is no longer there. I live in Chandlers Ford Hampshire. Any suggestions would be greatly received as I feel so exhausted all the time.
A: We are sorry to hear that your sleeping problems have returned but pleased to hear that they responded well to acupuncture before. This usually means that there is good reason to expect that they will do so again.
Finding a practitioner local to you could not be easier. On our website home page there is a postcode search facility which will offer you a number of suggestions who are geographically nearest to you. All of our members are trained and qualified to the same very high standards, so it is really a matter of finding someone who you can do business with. Most practitioners are more than happy to invite you for a brief face to face assessment before you commit to treatment and this will offer you a chance to meet them in their work surroundings.
We hope that acupuncture treatment offers the same results again and helps you to regain your joie de vivre.
Q: My daughter suffers from transverse myelitis. Her symptoms are increasing. She now experiences nerve pain in the back of her neck and her throat area which may be affecting her larynx. She has demyelination in her lower back. Her legs are affected and sometimes her left arm. How can acupuncture help?
A: As you might imagine there is very little research into the treatment of transverse myelitis (TM), even in one of its more common presentations as multiple sclerosis. Such studies as do exist tend to be small, or even single case reports, and while these are often encouraging they do tend to focus on specifics associated with the condition, like insomnia or specific local pain. From our perspective the research may be flawed for other reasons; it is quite plausible that the problems which have arisen are not primarily arising from the myelitis but a reaction to it and the treatment is addressing a consequential problem which is not actually anything to do with the primary.
The conventional view of TM is that there are several causes as well as the catch-all idiopathic category, and a completely variable outcome, with some patients making a full recovery within three to six months, and others degenerating over time. as such there is very little certainty to offer in any assessment. However, from a Chinese medicine perspective, if we strip it back to basics the aim of treatment is to improve the flow of energy, called 'qi', in the body by addressing weaknesses or changes in its flow or any blockages in the system. Some of the very early traditions, many still in use today, were asymptomatic, i.e. the main aim was to treat the person in the simple belief that a body, mind and spirit in balance healed itself.
We have to be careful with statements like this, though. People hear what they want to hear, and helping the body to heal itself does not mean that anyone can achieve the impossible. Where there has been a loss of myelin coating on nerves the chances are that there will be no or limited recovery. This is an area of considerable conventional research and debate, and while there have been some interesting studies of regeneration in some specific areas, there is equally considerable suspicion of the enormous variety of dietary recommendations which purport to help with nerve regrowth.
Without knowing the exact cause of your daughter's problems two thoughts arise. The first is that if the condition has an inflammatory basis, there may be some possibility that acupuncture treatment may have an impact. Inflammation is sometimes understood by the Chinese as accumulations of Heat and Damp, and there are treatment protocols which may help. The second is that acupuncture treatment is used widely after stroke to restore the flow of energy in the channels, and it may be that some of the pains and discomforts from which your daughter suffers may be amenable to more local treatment. It is also not unusual to find that some pains are simply coincidental or secondary, and potentially treatable - it is not at all uncommon to find that once someone has a disease label like MS or Parkinsons that anything which subsequently occurs is just assumed to be caused by the 'headline' problem. This may not be the case.
The best advice we can give is that your daughter has an informal chat with a local practitioner. Oxford has an enormous number of practitioners, many of whom are extremely experienced, and we are sure that she will be given sound advice about how best to proceed and also about what other options may be available to her. We hear of cranial osteopathy being used to good effect in conditions like this and often cross refer with osteopaths to achieve the best possible results.
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