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A: We are very reluctant to endorse online training in acupuncture. We are seeing the development of a number of courses in the UK which combine attendance at a college with online resources and distance learning packages, and we have in the last decade seen some highly effective packages developed to enable prospective practitioners to enhance their learning from the set textbooks.
Critically, however, acupuncture is not simply a matter of learning where the points are and converting the patient's account of what is wrong into a recognised pattern and simply inserting needles where prescribed. Making sense of someone's patterns of disharmony, at least in traditional rather than the medical acupuncture practised by qualified doctors, requires a great deal of experiential hands-on training. There used to be an old saying, 'western medicine is hard to learn but easy to practise, Chinese medicine is easy to learn but difficult to practise', and this is something we would fully endorse. Many of the subtleties of Chinese medicine depend on interpretation and observation, and it is simply not possible to learn this kind of skill from an online resource.
Our other major concern is that acupuncture has to be practised safely, and learning the requirements of safe and hygienic practice is again something which we do not believe can be properly instructed online, however good the videos on Youtube may be. There is a world of difference between watching someone do something and then doing it oneself, and to attain expertise one really needs to be supervised and assessed in person.
We are pleased that you are keen to become an acupuncturist, and hope that you manage to track down a course within reasonable distance which offers you the chance to become qualified. We would recommend, though, that you take great care before committing any funds to training which falls short of the standards set by the World Health Organisation
These are very clear in their demarcation between different styles and the levels of each component which are necessary to meet what the WHO regards as a minimum standard.
Q: My two tubes are blocked. I have been trying to get pregnant for more than 6 years. Do you think the Chinese medicine and acupuncture can help me?
A: We were asked this question some time ago and the answer we gave then was:
Q: I have been diagnosed with one blocked and one partially blocked fallopian tube, will I benefit from any treatment you can offer?
A: A great deal depends on what has caused the blockage. There are dozens of first hand accounts on the internet of women who have used acupuncture and herbal medicine after being diagnosed with blocked tubes who report that the treatment has caused the tubes to unblock. There are also a couple of sites where health professionals have speculated that the diagnosis of blocked tubes is not always accurate, and that some forms of internal examination can replicate the presentation of a blocked tube which on laparoscopy turns out not to be blocked and therefore may respond to treatment.
The majority view, however, seems to be that if there is a physical reason for the blockage, such as scarring following surgery, or after Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or after the appearance of adhesions through endometriosis or chlamydia, then the chances of reversing the damage with acupuncture or any other non-surgical modality are relatively poor.
We do not like to be discouraging, but there is little or no evidence from research trials or even from case studies written up by health professionals that a blocked fallopian tube can be sorted out, and IVF remains the only option besides microsurgery for a woman wanting to become pregnant. The chances of microsurgery offering a solution will depend on what caused the original blockage and how severe the blockage is.
We think that this remains the most realistic advice we can offer, disappointing as it may sound.
We suppose the short and truthful answer to your question is 'no' if by it you mean 'can acupuncture accelerate a natural process?'. The rate at which young people enter adolescence can vary dramatically, and 'late starters' often accelerate very rapidly to catch up with their peers and sometimes overtake them. One of the basic premises of traditional acupuncture is that it encourages best function in the body, mind and spirit, and to this extent works within the potential which each person has by making everything function as well as it can. If the body has its own game plan for an adolescent, acupuncture treatment cannot change that by speeding things up.
That said, there can come a point where someone's growth may start to attract clinical attention, and where clinicians in orthodox medicine will start to commission hormone tests to see what is happening. Once this is the case, and a pathological pattern has been identified, there may be some scope for using acupuncture to help to normalise matters. The research evidence for the treatment of hormonal problems is a little sketchy, but slow growth and development in later adolescence has been examined by Chinese physicians for over 2000 years, and there are a number of ways of understanding and making sense of this within the terminology and conceptual framework of Chinese medicine.
However, our advice to any twelve year old who presented at our clinic would be to have patience and wait for changes which in the vast majority of cases will occur within the 'normal' band for teenage development. Only when someone reaches the end of this range at about 15 or 16 would most medical practitioners start to consider that things may not be as they should.
However, we wouldn't want to deter someone from trying acupuncture before that! In ancient times, acupuncture treatment was primarily aimed at keeping people well, not getting them better after they had become ill. This, said the ancient Chinese, was like digging a well when you were already thirsty or forging a spear after the battle had started. In a world dominated by disease labels and getting rid of problems treatment for healthy living and encouraging better function often get set aside from the way we present what we do, and we believe that we could perhaps be doing more to get this message across.
Q: My sister has a long standing back injury, she fell on a concrete surface and injured her lower back in 1997. She has been in tremendous pain over the years, chiropractors, physios, pain killers the lot. Recently someone advised acupuncture, and we all recommended she go. After this length of time she'd try anything for relief. The acupuncturist told her she needed at least 6 sessions, then they could decide further. My sister managed 3 sessions. All 3 were very painful, and the pain lasted for days mostly at the points where the needles were inserted, mostly her left shoulder. After the last session, she was very dizzy, lightheaded, started experiencing blackouts and fainting, unable to stand, unable to get up and down stairs we took her into hospital because she'd hurt herself when she fainted. Her MRI is clear, 2nd one also clear. All results clear. They are now focussing on getting her mobile, saying its like her brain has forgotten the function of her legs and that is why she isn't walking. My sister has a 5 year and has now been in hospital a week. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
A: This is certainly a very strange outcome after acupuncture treatment. Generally speaking, acupuncture is an extremely safe treatment, and such few adverse effects as there are tend to be short-term and transient. Of course, one can never rule out a causal connection, but at this stage what really matters is finding a solution to your sister's problems.
The practitioner has certainly taken an approach we favour, which is to set a target of four to six sessions and then review progress. The placing of needles in the shoulder is something on which we could not comment without detailed access to the notes. Chinese medicine treats the person as much as it treats the condition, so needles are inserted where they need to be for achieving balance across the whole system, and this may be far away from the site of the problem. Even symptomatic treatments can be a long way from the problem; a standard first-aid point for frozen shoulder is on the shin.
What would interest us most is the fact that the treatment itself was painful. We are assuming that your sister made her feelings known to the practitioner about how painful it was. In this situation a responsible and caring practitioner will inevitably look to use even shallower needle insertion with less 'action' on the needle (less needle rotation), and in some cases to move to other areas of the body where the patient experiences less pain. We find quite often that with backs in spasm treating directly in the area of the pain can appear to aggravate the sensations, and we often work at a distance, making use of the channel connections to affect the painful area.
On the assumption that the practitioner did respond positively to your sister's distress, it may simply be that acupuncture is not the best treatment for your sister. We have come across a handful of patients in our time who are too sensitive for needles and for whom treatment is a form of torture, even when they are committed to it and really want it to work. If this is the case, it may also rule out some of the hands-on therapies which may also feel highly uncomfortable.
We still believe that acupuncture may have a role to play in helping your sister, although we would not be surprised if she decided that this was a bad option. If she does go ahead, it will be important to establish with the practitioner that the treatment has to be extremely gentle and involve as few needles as possible. If the practitioner will not agree to this, find another practitioner. Other than that, we wonder whether cranial osteopathy might offer a possibility. This is an extremely gentle form of treatment with profound effects, and a growing number of osteopaths now offer this as their primary technique. If the problem may be more neurological, and on the assumption there is no actual physical damage to her system, there may be some mileage in looking at hypnotherapy as an option. This is a highly problematic area, though; there is no statutory regulation of hypnotherapy, and the range of training levels for people to be able to call themselves hypnotherapists is vast. At one end you have degree level practitioners, especially those using Ericksonian hypnotherapy in which this expert has great faith, and there are weekend trained 'look into my eyes' people whose standards may not be as good. However, where learned patterns are forgotten, this is something to bear in mind.
We hope that your sister does improve and hope that she is able to try acupuncture again on the basis we have suggested. If not, we hope that the two pointers we have given may be useful.
Q: I am an acupuncturist & possibly moving to Bali. Just wondered if you know what the rules are re practising there ... Or who could I contact to find out how you can practice while I'm there ...?
A: Well, to be honest we were a bit stumped and started doing the same sorts of internet searches which you have probably already done, and found the following information (in rotten English!) about the history of acupuncture regulation in Indonesia
Then, of course, we did what we should have done from the off to see if any existing BAcC Oversease members are working there, and amazingly Day Post, who used to be involved with the BAcC Research Committee is working in Bali. His details, which we took from the BAcC website are
Jalan Sri Rama 63
+62 822 91183911
and we are absolutely sure that he would be delighted to fill you in on the background to working there. The fact that he is means that our own level of qualification more than meets the requirement for registration, as far as one can be certain from the documentation above.
We are just the tiniest bit envious of someone thinking of working in such a beautiful location, and if you do decide to move, we hope it is as good as it sounds like it could be.