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Q:  My acupuncturist told me there's some problem with my kidney (kidney deficiency) because of my symptoms - : pain around my kidney, muscle stiffness and tingling or pain around my hips. It radiates radiate down to my legs causing stiffness, cramp, tingling and weakness, as well weak erection. Does this sounds right? Also what supplements or vitamins are is good for the kidneys. For your informtion my acupuncturist has  30 years experience, running an acupuncture school and also a PhD degree..

A:This sounds the sort of thing that might happen when someone has a kidney deficiency. However, notice the capital letters. Rather misleadingly, the organs of conventional medicine and the organs of Chinese medicine bear the same name, but there are huge differences between how each is understood. In the West, the organ is very much viewed as a purely physical thing, with specific physiological structures and functions. The organ in Chinese medicine also describes various functions, but of a much more generic nature across the whole system, in the body, mind and spirit. This is what gives Chinese medicine its great strength and perspective - seemingly unrelated physical, mental and emotional symptoms can all point to disturbances in a single organ.

Over the 2500 years of Chinese medicine history a number of syndromes have become second nature to practitioners where from simply looking at the tongue and taking the pulse they are able to say with some confidence the kinds of problem from which the patient may be suffering. This can sometimes be quite perturbing to patients, a bit like a magic show, but it also gives great confidence in the system that someone is able to use their diagnostic skills to spell out a number of problems which a person might have and which might not even count as symptoms to them.

Your practitioner has many years of experience and can almost certainly be relied on to be accurate in his assessment. If you are looking to add supplements to the treatment programme to enhance its effects, he is the best person to approach for advice. There is an almost infinite variety of possible supplements, but an experienced practitioner will know which ones are most likely to be appropriate for your specific needs. This is something which does need to be assessed carefully; the liver and kidney are understood in Chinese medicine to be the two Organs most involved in processing substances which are introduced into the body, from legal supplements and
prescription drugs through to recreational drugs. If someone takes large doses  of synthetic vitamins, for example, they can add to the burdens of an already
struggling organ.

Q:  I had a viral Infection in my right ear 3yrs ago. It affected my balance a lot, I had to lie down most of the day for about 3wks.My balance got better , but it left my ear deaf with a drone. As well as this I was suffering from candida overgrowth very bad. I think I have still got the candida , because the symptoms are still there. Would accupuncture help these in any way?

A:  We have been asked questions about candida infections before, usually when it has been brought on by antibiotics. Although the response we gave was geared to antibiotic causation, we think that the general points it made are worth repeating in full:

Can acupuncture help cure candida caused by taking many antibiotics? As you are no doubt well aware, there is still a great deal of controversy in the orthodox medical profession about whether candida constitutes a 'real' condition, and a great deal of sharp practice on the fringes of the alternative medicine profession selling people expensive remedies of doubtful provenance.

From a Chinese medicine perspective there are a number of issues which the practitioner would want to look at carefully. Chinese medicine is premised on the flow of energy, called 'qi', in the system whose balance and rhythms are integral to the well-being of the person. Many things can disrupt this flow, and western medications can be a major source of problems. However, when people say sight unseen 'antibiotics do x' or 'antibiotics do y' that is not really within the spirit of the system. Each person is a unique balance of energies, and how western drugs affect them can be very different. Obviously the Liver and Kidney (capitalised to denote the Organs as understood from a Chinese perspective) take much of the burden of processing medications, but if there is a pre-existing weakness anywhere in the system, this may be the weak point which is further weakened by the stress of the drugs, and the symptoms may not relate directly to specific Organs normally deemed to be under threat.

At the same time, the symptoms which someone has can point to under-performance in specific parts of the system, and if you have searched on google for 'acupuncture' and 'candida' you will often find reference to 'dampness', a form of imbalance within the system which can have both internal and external causes, and which often relates directly to the Spleen as understood in Chinese thought. This often leads to dietary recommendations as well as treatment.

However, we would recommend that your best course of action before committing to treatment is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment, hopefully without charge, to establish whether the presentation you have is best served by acupuncture treatment or not. There are some cases where it is clear that acupuncture may have a good effect, and others where there is no obvious direct connection between what someone is experiencing and an energetic weakness. This is not always a bar to treatment; the ancient systems treat the person, not the disease. However, where one can see a direct link, it is often easier to predict movement and change.

Candida is a very difficult condition which seems to arise against a more generalised backdrop of problems to do with stress, illness and lifestyle, and then causes
a fresh raft of these which in turn fuel the original problem. As with all medical approaches in these kinds of situations the key aim is to break the spiral and give the system time to recover. This can sometimes be very rapid, but in the case of candida our experience is that it can take time and usually involves acupuncture treatment as just a part of a broader treatment strategy involving diet, supplements and herbal or homeopathic treatment.

As we said in the earlier reply, however, there is almost a limitless supply of 'guaranteed to help' products, and while everything works for some people, there is rarely something which works for everyone. The best advice on diet and supplements will always come from someone properly trained to offer advice, and hopefully someone who is independent of any financial relationship to the products recommended. Our members tend to network locally, and most will know someone they trust to make a referral if required.

The noise in your ears is another matter. You may be lucky insofar as the background context of candida may mean that this is treatable as a part of the same overall pattern. However, noises in the ear, under the general heading of tinnitus, are very difficult to treat, and we have for many years advised people about not being too optimistic about the use of acupuncture for treating this. There are a couple of well-defined syndromes which might point to a rapid resolution, but in the majority of cases there seems to be very little conclusive evidence of a specific treatment which seems to work. Everything will work for someone, but there is rarely something which works for everyone. If you look at the tinnitus support group newsletters you will see this time and time again, a remarkable result for one person followed by dozens of other people trying the same solution without success.

The best advice we can ever give for conditions like yours, where the presentation really is unique to each individual patient, is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face chat and assessment of what they think treatment may be able to offer you. We are sure that they will give you an honest answer and will try to direct you to the best possible treatment for you, even if this is not with them.

Q: I had acupuncture behind my shoulder blade (scapula?) last night & immediately after felt a weird sensation in my throat/chest.  Today I have awful pain in my back (right shoulder) but that isn't worrying me - what is worrying me is that when I breathe deeply my left lung feels "weird" kind of tight/compressed. I also got very out of breath
walking up stairs.  I have no chest pain and my  heart rate is higher than usual but probably due to worry.  My chest generally feels a bit tight on the left side.  When taking the needle out he said "ooh that took well" hinting it was harder than usual to get out.  Should I be worried about this?  Anything to look out for?  I have heard of punctured lungs and I am very slim so a bit concerned but assuming I would be in agony if this was the case?  I am flying in a few days so just want to make sure I am ok before then.

A:  Pneumothorax, or punctured lung as it is commonly known, is a very rare adverse event after acupuncture treatment. We give advice to our members to follow the recognised techniques for needle insertion, and particularly needle depth, and to take extra care when the patient is old, very thin or has a history of bronchial conditions. There will be times when even with the best precautions a pneumothorax may happen, but in the twenty years of the BAcC's existence there have only been a handful and only one or two of these where the cause was not in doubt - pneumothoraxes can happen spontaneously and there is a tendency to make illegitimate causal connections.

If, however, there is any hint of a possibility that you may have a pneumothorax, then you should present yourself at your nearest A and E department for an X-ray as soon as possible, especially if you are flying very soon. It is always best to be absolutely certain. There are degrees of pneumothorax, and it is not always the whole picture with serious breathing problems and severe pain. However, getting out of breath while climbing stairs is not a good sign, and at very least indicates some kind of intercostal strain which you may need help with before pressurisation in a plane.

We would be delighted to hear that this is a 'false positive' and that this is not a serious problem, but if it does turn out to be so we would advise you to get back in touch so that we can give you more advice about your next steps after you have been treated.

Q: Im looking to start an acupuncture course but I'm not sure what the best qualification would be? There are a few options available accredited by the BAaC but im not sure which one to choose. Basically I would like to know if its worth the extra money to get a Bsc degree from a university as opposed to a Diploma? (CNM is the only organisation offering a diploma, and the course duration is the same as other organisations).

A:  We are assuming that you have been looking at the list on the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board's website. The BAAB accredits, not us, although we are heavily involved in setting the standards for accrediting courses and institutions.

The question of diplomas against degrees is a rather thorny one. The older hands amongst us are often more sceptical about the value of a degree, especially since the degree courses often involve a more biomedical approach to some aspects of the training than we would like to see. However, there is little doubt that the more recent graduates, many of who have chosen to become acupuncture practitioners as a first career rather than those of us trained in the 80s and 90s for whom this is a second career do find that the degree is something which they want, and for obvious reasons. A degree has a transferable value, more than a diploma, and if after ten or twenty years in practice someone decides to change direction, then the degree is something which can be rolled out, especially since it is usually a BSc and quite highly regarded.

All of the courses are the same standard, offering at least 3600 hours of training over three years, and as far as becoming an acupuncturist is concerned, that are all equally good. However, the change in course fee arrangements has actually seen a rather odd transition over the last few years. Where the degree courses were becoming the predominant mode, the introduction of higher fees, nearly all at the £9K mark, have made the private teaching institutions a steal at £5k or £6K, although of course the fees may not be repayable for many years whereas the private course fees are usually payable now.

In the end, though, we are not really able to say which courses are better for obvious reasons, and our advice to prospective students is to make the best possible use of open days to find out which course and which style of teaching suits you best. There are also variations in the styles of acupuncture being taught, and these too can have a major impact in what someone chooses to do. Our view would be that these factors were probably more important than cost alone in choosing a course for a career which might last fifty years.

Q:  i have had acupuncturea  few times now.   After each treatment the symptoms come back or got worse.  Is this a good sign? I carried out  some research which says that sometimes it will re-create the symptoms in order to get better.

A:  There is a piece of received wisdom that says that symptoms sometimes get worse before they start to improve, and this is certainly something which most practitioners of any experience will have seen during their careers. After a while, though, a pattern starts to emerge which probably reflects the clinical situation and what might be going on in the energetic language of Chinese medicine. There are a number of conditions where the problem is perceived as starting from the outside and working its way in,
becoming more entrenched as it does and often causing more severe symptoms. When this process is reversed, as it is with acupuncture treatment, there can be quite a noticeable but usually short term reaction.

The homeopaths use the term 'law of cure' to describe this and it is not uncommon to see a pattern of disease re-appearing in the reverse chronological order in which it first appeared. The key thing, however, is that it this is what is happening, the effect, while possibly quite severe, is short-lived. In treating migraines, for example, we warn patients about the possibility of a really bad short-lived migraine at the beginning of a course of treatment, and advise them that if this happens it will be soon over.

If the same thing happens every time we treat someone then it is probably an indicator of something entirely different. This can very occasionally be wrong treatment; it is possible to increase an imbalance by poorly chosen treatment, and the feedback from a patient is usually enough to alert the practitioner that something is amiss with the treatment plan, especially if this happens a second or third time.

The other possibility is that you are simply energetically sensitive. There are a number of people for treatment has to be very gentle, both in terms of the number of points used and in the amount of action applied to the needles. If the practitioner does too much for the patient's system to handle, the result can be a short period of feeling very odd followed by an improvement. The balance to be struck is how much improvement at what level of disruption. If someone really doesn't get on with needles, then there may be better alternatives for them.

In the end, though, the best person to be talking to about this is your practitioner. They not only know what they have done but are best placed to make the necessary adjustments or interpret what has been happening to you. We often find that when we get these sorts of enquiries it is because the practitioner hasn't done quite enough to address the patient's concerns, and a little nudge in that direction is never a bad thing!


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