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Q:  Three years ago my partner had 2 discs removed from his spine and has been in severe pain in his back and legs ever since. Would acupuncture help him ?

A:  A great deal depends on the extent of the physical changes which have occurred in the operation and whether the vertebrae have been fused. If the physical structure is now such that the spinous processes constantly  impinge nerves then the chances are that the best one could hope for is to turn down the volume a little.

This is certainly an aspect of acupuncture practice which has been thoroughly researched since Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s. The sight of people having operations without anaesthetic meant that there was an upsurge of research into acupuncture for pain relief, and quite an impressive amount of research into the effects of acupuncture on the release of endorphins and enkephalins, the body's natural painkillers. Of course, the issue with this kind of treatment is that like all painkillers they wear off, and the rather unfortunate equation is between cost and effectiveness. If treatment can reduce pain for a significant time then the cost of doing this on a regular basis becomes the main issue.

This kind of use of acupuncture is not really traditional acupuncture, though, and we would have perhaps one or two ways of considering what is happening based on our view that the body is a system of energy in movement and that pain arises where the energy (called 'qi' in Chinese medicine) does not flow as it should. This can mean in some cases that post-operative pain can have as much to do with the blockage in the flow of qi caused by the surgery as  the problem which the surgery was intended to correct.  Even scar tissue can act as  a block.

However, we would not want this to be read in a way that gives unrealistic expectations. Some people do respond well to post-operative treatment, but again, a great deal depends on the state of the whole system. If a chronic problem sits atop a history of other chronic health problems then the potential for recovery may be less. The strength of Chinese medicine, though, is that it looks at the person as a whole, and tries to make sense of why this person has these particular problems.

This is why we most frequently advise people to visit a BAcC member local to them for advice on what may be possible given their own unique balance. There may be aspects of the presentation which will inform a practitioner about the likelihood of successful treatment, and most members are happy to give up a little time without charge to make this assessment. Our postcode search facility on the home page will show you the practitioners working closest to where you live or work. 


Q:  Please can you suggest the best type of acupuncture for vestibular migraine? I have no headache but daily vertigo/dizziness symptoms.

A:  Acupuncture has a surprisingly good record with treating the different varieties of vertigo/dizziness/Menieres kinds of problems, as our factsheet on vertigo shows:

The evidence is not quite robust enough for us to be able to make claims for success, but this is more a reflection of the type of evidence sought, by which acupuncture treatment is not, in our view, appropriately tested. We treat many people with these types of problem, and we have to presume that the fact we keep getting referrals indicates that we must be doing some good.

We think we are probably helped by the fact that there are some clearly defined functional elements as defined within Chinese medicine which are responsible for the sense of balance in the body, and this makes tracking the pathways of imbalances a great deal easier. This means that there are some short term treatments which one can apply in a slightly less holistic way to bring things under control while spending time on the underlying patterns of imbalance from which the balance problems usually emerge as a secondary phenomenon. You have probably read that twenty people presenting with the same  symptom might be treated in twenty different ways because each has a unique balance which needs to be adjusted. This holds true, but doesn't preclude direct help to one of the secondary manifestations if we need to help someone as best we can.

You ask about types of acupuncture, and we have to be honest and say that within traditional acupuncture any of the systems will be equally effective in addressing your problems. Seen from the perspective of balancing the system as a whole, there have been dozens of variations on the basic themes in the 2500 year history of the tradition, and all are equally valid ways of elaborating the core concepts. We would be less optimistic about modern traditions, as you could imagine from what we have already said. Treating the symptom as the source of the problem will obviously work in cases where there is nothing else out of kilter, but our experience is that there usually is, and just using formula treatments for problems often leads to short term gain followed by a return to the status quo.

We have checked our database by using the online search facility and have found a number of people working very close to where you live. The postcode facility is even more precise, so we have no doubt that you will be able to find a well trained and qualified practitioner near to where you live. Most offer a facility of dropping in for a chat before committing to treatment, and this might be a good route to pursue, giving you a chance to meet them and see where they work.

Q:  Three years ago my wife suffered a severe cranial infarction which has left her totally incapacitated on her right side permanently bed ridden and doubly incontinent. She is well cared for in a nursing home and is fortunately left handed. There is no prospect of any sort of recovery, but she is troubled by very severe pains which she agrees are of a cramp like nature in her right lower arm and elbow area. These come and go and leave her in agony for hours each day and seriously depressed. Is there any possibility that acupuncture techniques might reduce or remove these sudden bouts of pain?re sorry to hear of your wife's continuing problems.

A:  We are always a little careful when we answer questions based on possibility. Everything is possible. Every treatment works for someone but this falls a long way short of some treatment working for everyone. We have produced a fairly hefty review paper

which details the many studies of post stroke/CVA treatment. In China acupuncture has a much more central place in the treatment of stroke/CVA, especially immediately after the event. Treatment often commences the day of the event itself, and the aim is to restore the proper flow of energy as soon as possible. It is also used quite frequently in this context as well, getting rid of a residual symptom which either does not leave after the stroke or emerges as a consequence of the change of use associated with the problem.

As you probably know from your researched so far traditional acupuncture is based on theories of energy, called qi, and its flow and balance in the body. Pain only arises where the flow is blocked or where it is seriously deficient or in excess, and the needles are used to restore balance. In order to get a really good idea of what may be possible for your wife's problem you will need someone to take a look and make a face to face assessment. At this remove all that we could say is that it is not untypical of the sorts of problems we have addressed, and sometimes very effectively, but we are reluctant to say 'go ahead' because there may be aspects of your wife's condition which a practitioner would see immediately were likely to cause difficulties beyond the scope of acupuncture.

Hopefully your wife's nursing home is near enough to a BAcC member that they could easily pop in and give you a better sense of what is possible. Home visits are not the most popular option for some members because many are reluctant to charge for the additional time it takes to arrive and set up, but there are still enough who do to encourage us that this is a reasonable possibility.

A:  As far as we can tell these refer to a Certificate in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine awarded by the City College of Acupuncture  and that the practitioner is registered with the British Register of Complementary Practitioners.  This is a register which operates as far as we know under the aegis of the the Institute of Complementary and Natural Medicine.

We are not sure whether the TCM for Traditional Chinese Medicine is a qualifier of the certificate or the section of the BRCP register in which the practitioner is recorded.

Q:   I had acupuncture about 5 days ago with a different practitioner. Almost straight after the session I got a pain in my right side of my stomach which has not subsided. Could this have been an affect of the treatment?

A:  We are sorry to hear of your experience.

Without knowing exactly where you were needled and for what we are a little limited in what we can say. If the pain is at a needle site it suggests that there may be a little internal bruising which is not visible on the surface but enough to put pressure on nerves and cause some discomfort.  Physical damage after acupuncture treatment is quite rare, and usually transient, so it is quite possible that by the time you get this response after the Easter break your discomfort will have subsided. If it hasn't, and it does relate to where you were needled you might need to contact the practitioner to ask for their advice and possible explanation, and also arrange to see your GP just to be sure that there is nothing untoward going on. It is highly unlikely but it is often better to take this step early to avoid unnecessary worry.

There is also a slight chance that the pain is an energetic consequence of the treatment. It is also quite unusual to experience this, but there are occasions when helping the system to function better reveals blockages which a weaker balance was able to cope with. It is also possible that the treatment was badly chosen, although our experience of choosing the wrong treatment is that the system reverts within 48 hours to where it started. Longer lasting disruption is extremely rare.

The best person to ask is the practitioner himself or herself. They will know exactly where they needled you, and will be as concerned as you to understand what has happened and do what they can to correct it or refer you on for further investigation. We rather hope, though, that it is a transient adverse event, and by the time you received this reply after the break it has subsided or gone. 


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