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Q: I would like to know the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of body dysmorphia and is there a possibility to achieve a cure in the lomg run.

A:  We were once asked about using acupuncture for treating anorexia, one of the more commonly experienced types of body dysmorphia, and a part of our responses was:

Chinese medicine has an entirely different conceptual framework from conventional medicine, and is based on an wide and intricate understanding of the workings of body, mind and spirit as a flow of energy, called 'qi' (pronounced ‘chee’). This flow can become blocked, stuck, weakened or excessive in response to the circumstances of life, and when this happens symptoms develop. From this background there is the potential that Chinese medicine might provide treatment options, but we have to say that our experience is that body dysmorphia which is the root of the problem is rarely addressed directly by acupuncture and it usually requires considerable counselling and careful management to encourage someone back to full health. There is no doubt that acupuncture can help along the way; especially by aiding the restoration of natural function and calming the spirit. Acupuncture should not be seen as a primary treatment for anorexia but it can be an effective complementary therapy. However, each case is unique and it is always possible to visit a BAcC member local to you to get the benefit of face to face advice.

This is probably the best that one can say. You will read a considerable amount of accounts of traditional acupuncture treating body, mind and spirit, and traditional acupuncture treating the whole person, and this can sometimes slide into an unwitting creation of an expectation that acupuncture can treat anything. This is, of course,. technically true; acupuncture treats the individual and therefore helps with anything from which they suffer. Treat is ambiguous, however. Most people hear 'cure' when they hear 'treat', and as we said in the earlier answer we believe that body dysmorphia probably requires a great deal more than acupuncture alone to address properly. 

That said, it would do no harm to visit a local BAcC member and have an informal chat about what may be possible. There are some cases where the condition can be tracked back to specific causes, like low self-esteem or low confidence, which taken together with the other diagnostic soundings might offer a possible benefit. As a general comment, though, we think that what we said previously is the best advice that we can give.


Q: I have had an ankle sprain for quite a few weeks now and decided to go for acupuncture  .After the  session I feel the pain has become more active and I can feel a tingling sensation. Is it normal to feel like this or what could have went wrong?

A:  It is not uncommon for the treatment of sprains and muscular problems to feel a little different after treatment, occasionally becoming more noticeable and often accompanied by the sorts of tingling sensations which you are experiencing. This is almost always a good sign that the treatment has taken, and that there will be improvements to follow.

Damage from treatment is quite rare, and when it does happen tend to be more fixed and specific in cases where there has been a small bruise or the impingement of a nerve. There is also usually a visible sign at one of the needle sites of slight redness or bruising.

We think that the discomfort will soon ease. However, if it does continue, the first person you should speak to is the practitioner. He or she knows what they have done, and will be able to make sense of the reactions you are having. In the extremely unlikely event that this persists for more than 48 hours, you might want to ask your doctor to take a look, but usually reactions like this subside within three days, and in most cases are a good sign that the treatment is working.


Q:  I am in the 5th week of shingles on my neck, scalp, ear, shoulder and upper chest Scabs all gone but I am left with acute skin sensitivity and itching - the latter mainly at night. I received anti vial medication and am now on Amytriptilyne and take paracetomol.  Do you think it is too early to consider acupuncture?

A:  Quite the reverse!

As with a great many conditions viewed from a Chinese medicine perspective the earlier treatment commences the better. The logic is somewhat similar to the use of antivirals like acyclovir in conventional medicine - get in early before the problem takes root.

Our factsheet on herpes zoster quotes some quite positive research study material

and although the studies are not large enough or methodologically acceptable for advertising purposes, they are suggestive of the usefulness of giving acupuncture a go.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, shingles is a combination of Wind and Heat, but note the capital letters! We are talking about categories within an entirely different diagnostic system which describes opportunistic infections as 'invasions' and which sees the expulsion of them as the primary task. The earlier this is done the better. What happens of the condition is left untreated too long is that it becomes what the Chinese call a 'lingering pathogenic factor' with different characteristics. To some extent the body gets used to this being a part of its make-up, and removing it can be more of a challenge. This may sound rather odd, but all conditions eventually become a part of who we are or believe ourselves to be, and there can be quite a great deal of 'habit' energy involved in a presentation which can be a problem to dispel.

Five weeks is still relatively early, though, so it would be well worth your while to visit a BAcC member local to you for an informal chat about what acupuncture treatment may be able to offer. Shingles is a horrible condition whose effect far outweighs its apparent simplicity of appearance, so we wish you well in limiting its nastiness.

Q:  Can acupuncture help relieve pain in my lower leg that appears to be neurological- intense pain when resting or trying to sleep accompanied by strong feeling of coldness. Much worse after crouching or kneeling for periods- pain relieved by walking about.

A:  We are assuming that you have had all of the conventional checks that are available to you. Anything which shows a potential neurological or especially vascular (intense pain and coldness) deficit warrants proper investigation. We hope this doesn't sound alarmist, but there are a number of conditions for which symptoms like this are a diagnostic marker, and if there is an issue it needs to be addressed soon.

On the assumption that everything checks out OK from a conventional point of view, there are some interesting diagnostic pointers from a Chinese medicine perspective. Pain arises, from this perspective, because of changes in the flow of the energy upon which the system is based. This can be a local excess or deficiency, or a blockage, and this in itself might be a local problem or a local occurrence of a systemic problem.

Given the nature of the symptoms there are too many possibilities for us even to consider delineating what the possible conventional causes could be (like sciatica or peripheral neuropathy) and how well they have been shown to respond to acupuncture treatment. From a Chinese medicine perspective there is a great deal to go on, however, and we would feel fairly comfortable about offering to treat with some likelihood of success.

What does concern us is the fact that you do not mention a conventional regime of tests. We would strongly advise this as a first step if this has not already happened. After that the best thing to do is to seek the face to face opinion of a BAcC member local to you. Most of our colleagues are more than happy to give up a little time without charge to see whether treatment is a good option, and to make any other recommendations if they think there are better alternatives to address the issue, like osteopathy or chiropractic if there is nerve impingement at the spinal level, for example.

Q:  I had acupuncture  on my neck, shoulder and back.  I am suffering bad pain on the right side of back going into my buttocks. 

A:  A great deal depends on whether the pain is at a needle site or not, and to some extent what you were being treated for.

If the pain is at a needle site, then there is a small chance that you have a minor bruise which may not yet have shown itself at the surface but may be quietly impinging nerves in the area. If this is the case the pain will have come on soon after the treatment and been pretty consistent. It also means that as the bruise heals the pain will diminish, and eventually go.

However, if you were being treated for a back or neck problem it is not unusual for there to be a reaction after treatment which can make someone's symptoms worse before they start to get better. Very often the body becomes used to operating slightly out of kilter so when a practitioner tries to restore normal function and the body re-arranges itself it can feel very uncomfortable. Osteopaths and chiropractors tend to give the same warning to patients, but generally the adverse effects have worn off after two or three days.

There is always a chance that the pain has nothing to do with the treatment itself. We are not being defensive in saying this but we do come across cases where a pain kicks off after treatment that is not related to what has been done. In these circumstances our job is to ensure that someone gets the appropriate treatment rather than argue about whose fault it was. The diagnosis and treatment usually establishes quite quickly what the cause was.

The best advice we can give is that you speak first to the practitioner to get an idea of whether the pain is related to either the needle site or the problem you are addressing. If it is, then we expect that they will do their best to sort it out when they next see you. If they are mystified about the cause, or if you feel uneasy going back to confront them, and the pain carries on at the same pitch it would be worth booking an appointment with your GP to make sure everything is OK. This is just a precaution, but always worth taking rather than wait too long (given that same day appointments are something of a rarity).

We have a cycle for replies which means that by the time you get this we are hoping that the pain has already started to subside. If it continues, then you need to call the practitioner or your GP soon.

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