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A: A great deal depends on the extent of the damage and the cause. Without knowing exactly which article you are referring to we have to take a rather broad sweep on response.

 We were asked some time ago, for example, about regeneration of nerve tissue after severing from an accident, and we said then:

 If there has been well-authenticated damage to a nerve then the chances of restoring its conductivity are very limited. If a nerve has been damaged beyond the body's ability to repair, then this severely limits what might be possible. There is a very small amount of evidence that acupuncture may be able to help nerve regeneration but this comes from the experimental end of the acupuncture world and often involves trials on animals, or 'ratpuncture' as some of our colleagues cheerfully dismiss it.

Obviously, though, we work in a different paradigm, and there are occasions where a symptom written off by conventional medicine as permanent and untreatable responds to acupuncture treatment. As you may be aware already from our website, the theories of Chinese medicine rest on a concept of energy, called 'qi' whose flow and balance determine good function and health in the body. If the flow is disrupted, as may be the case with accident, injury and occasionally surgery, then restoring the flow can sometimes have significant effects.

The confounding factor in this area is that when nerve damage occurs in the peripheral nerve tissue then there can be a spontaneous regeneration of nerve tissue anyway, and it becomes extremely difficult to determine whether there really has been a direct effect from the acupuncture treatment, or an indirect effect (where the general improvement in the whole system encourages healing across the whole body), or whether it was a complete coincidence. Studies tend to be rather too small to be able to generate meaningful conclusions so that the best one can often say is that something appears to have happened but no-one is quite sure what.

 One of the articles which did achieve a great deal of currency last year was this one

which was largely based on the conclusions drawn by this study.

There is no doubt that something interesting is going on here, but not to a degree that we would be able to say, 'yes, give treatment a go, something will happen.'

 There are other studies like this one:

 which seem to show that the conductivity of nerves in sufferers from Peripheral Neuropathy can be improved, although it is not clear from the abstract whether this was limited to improved movement or reduction of pain.

 The best we can say is that if the nerves have been damaged by an accident or from progressive demyelination as a result of a condition like MS or diabetes, the chances are that regeneration and repair is less likely, but not entirely impossible. In all other cases you would need to discuss with the practitioner what the causes of the problem were believed to be, and then let him or her assess with their own skills whether there are signs from a Chinese medicine perspective which would encourage them to feel that they could achieve something.

 Most members are usually happy to give up a short amount of time without charge to assess someone face to face before committing to treatment, and we advise this as the best option. We would encourage you not to think about the article as disinformation, though. Everything will work for someone, but it is rare for something to work for everyone. The article may well show possibilities, but whether they can be realised in other cases is not always guaranteed. 

A: We're afraid the answer is not a great deal. We have trawled the research databases, and apart from one very small study about twenty years ago of two patients, neither of whom showed any improvement after treatment, there have been very few case reports at all. This does not mean that they don't exist; there are literally thousands of studies undertaken in China every year. Most, however, are not translated, and we have to work on the premise that the ones that make people sit up and take notice are the ones which generate important results. Routine studies which show minor improvements are usually acknowledged and left untreated.

 Stammering is a very complex problem with all sorts of emotional and physical causes, and it might just be possible that a skilled practitioner might see something in the overall pattern of the child's energies which might offer some hope. We are always cautious about how we express this. Chinese medicine treats the person, not the condition, and so at some level you could say that it treats anything. 'Treat', however, is often taken to be synonymous with 'cure', and this is certainly not the case.

 Although we are all by the nature of our work generalists, but there are a couple of areas like obstetrics and paediatrics where we are looking at accrediting postgraduate education in recognition of expert practice. Children are not little adults, and there are a number of well-established courses and core texts which underpin specialist treatment. Many hundreds of practitioners in the BAcC have qualified to treat children, and although in the absence of finally agreed standards we cannot make recommendations, a google search for 'acupuncture' and 'children' in your area will almost certainly generate a number of hits. Alternatively you could ask a local BAcC member which of their colleagues specialises in treating children; most will have a 'go to' person in mind.

 The point of this is to see if you can arrange a brief assessment visit to see if there is anything in the case history which might encourage someone to believe that with treatment they may be able to help the child in question. We would expect them to give an honest assessment.

 What we do know well, though, from treating adults who stammer alongside other health issues is that there is no magic wand to effect change, and only in a few cases have we come across substantial changes. These have often been as much about reducing the anxiety which surrounds the problem as about actually stopping the problem at source, but conditions like this are often perpetuated by the worry about being about to stammer. 

 We hope that you manage to find someone who can offer you good face to face advice.

Q:  Query R.E problems breathing through nose.  For a long time ( many years) I seem to have a stuffy nose only at night time .( I used a Vick stick on and off for years ) any slight cold would cause problems and I would use vick spray . About 3 years ago I had a hysterectomy and a couple of months later I had some sort of virus that lasted approcimately 12 weeks which resulted in bad headaches. Doctors prescribed amitriptyline I was on 50g a day for about 2 years. During this time my problems with blocked nose got worse and affected  me 24 hours a day. I came off the amitriptyline gradually and stopped about 10 months ago .Last winter I was terrible for about 3-4 months and was constantly using Vicks spray. Doctors prescribed beconase and was ok during the summer, but have been having problems since September again . I also have slight post nasal drip
Can acupuncture help?

A:  First of all we need to congratulate your for getting off amitriptyline. Although it is not often regarded as a highly addictive drug we have had a number of patients over the years who have really struggled with the rebound symptoms from trying to come off a long term use. The fact that you have is a tribute to your determination.

 We have been asked questions before about allergic rhinitis and chronic rhinitis, both of which share similarities with your problems, and a typical answer has been:

Can acupuncture help chronic rhinitis?

There is a growing body of evidence that acupuncture treatment may help with a number of forms of rhinitis, as our factsheet shows:
However, we know from our clinical experience that although there are some, indeed many, presentations which seem to respond well to acupuncture treatment, there are a number which have their root in some physical change or restriction in the nasal cavities, or from long-term sinus infections which have become resistant to treatment. If either of these is the case, there may be much more of a struggle involved in trying to reduce the impact of the symptoms.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, however, there are a number of clearly defined patterns involving a compromised defensive system (the Chinese didn't recognise the immune system as we do but certainly had a concept of defensive energy which when compromised generates the symptoms which we associate with rhinitis) and also digestive disorders which can manifest in the fluids of the body being excessive. A skilled practitioner will be looking at the symptoms someone has in the context of their whole system, and trying to ensure that treatment is aimed at the core of the problem, not simply the way in which it manifests.

Amongst the things which the practitioner would consider are also a number of digestive factors. From the Chinese medicine perspective the intake of too much dairy produce can often produce far too much mucus in the body, and it is not uncommon as a pattern. If this is the case, though, there will be a number of diagnostic signs which point clearly in this direction.

You would be well advised to visit a BAcC member local to you for face to face advice. Most are happy to give up a few minutes without charge to assess whether acupuncture treatment is the best thing for you. 

 The importance of this is that from a Chinese medicine perspective it doesn't really matter what the western medical name of a problem is. The symptoms which the patient reports, along with signs which the practitioner can observe, all point to disturbances in the flow, rhythm and balance of the energies of the body, and the skill and art of the practitioner lies in being able to make sense of them within the theoretical framework of Chinese medicine. This can mean that twenty people with the same 'named' condition can find themselves being treated in twenty different ways.

 As far as the advice we gave before is concerned there are probably a number of lifestyle recommendations about diet which a practitioner would make, especially relating to the kinds of food you are eating and also the times of day at which you are eating them. Small adjustments here can have a profound impact, especially when you consider that one of the main two digestive functions in Chinese medicine is also responsible for maintaining fluid flow and can create mucus and phlegm if it is impaired.

 We are surprised that in the earlier answer we did not mention Chinese herbal medicine. Although we routinely offer this as an alternative suggestion for skin problems we have also found that our colleagues who also use herbs are able to address some of the long term rhinitis issues rather well. The quickest way to find a qualified practitioner is to look on the website of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, Most RCHM members are also members of the BAcC, and you can enjoy the best of both forms of treatment.

 As a first step we would advise you to talk to a BAcC member local to you. Most are very happy to give up a small amount of time without charge and can give you a brief face to face assessment which is far more likely to offer you a clear prognosis than we can offer at this remove.


Q:  I had my 2nd acupuncture treatment  which introduced front needles. When finished and I was lying down, I suddenly felt my heart beating in the sternum needle and then my left arm went completely numb. I have never felt anything like this, and was told it wasn't the needles...... but I'm not convinced..... What happened during this sitting, please help.

A:It's not quite clear from your question whether the strange events took place when the needles were in  or after they had been removed ('when she had finished').

 In either event this would be an unusual reaction. Most adverse effects of treatment occur where the needles have been inserted, so if there were to be a numb sensation,  whether this was a physical effect of touching a nerve or an energetic effect caused by moving energy ('qi'), it would usually be local to the needle insertion site. In some cases the energetic effect of needling can make a sensation travel along a channel, so a needle behind the knee, for example, could cause a sensation to travel up or down the defined route of energy travel. To get this kind of connection from needles on the torso would be more unusual, although not impossible. There are an extremely large number of interconnections between channels in Chinese medicine, and if a point is stimulated very strongly it is always possible that the effects can be stirred up at some distance from the needle.

 Of course, we also have to consider that the effects you experience, rapid heart rate and numbness, occurred at the same time as treatment but were not directly caused by it or simply coincidental. By not directly caused we don't mean that there may be no connection, just that it may be a reaction to being needles rather a reaction from being needled. It is always important if you experience something like this to check in with your GP. It's difficult not to sound alarmist, but while the vast majority of strange symptoms like this are benign one in a thousand may not be. If you were a patient of ours we would send you to your GP to get this checked out.

 We suspect the most likely cause is a form of panic attack brought on by the needles, or some sort of postural reaction to the specific angle at which you were resting. If either is the case then this is something which you need to talk through with your practitioner before your next session. We think it is highly unlikely that you have suffered a physical injury from the needles, and if needles are the cause, it may be to do with too deep insertion, too vigorous manipulation or too many needles. All of these are under the control of the practitioner, and can be adjusted to make the experience more comfortable in future. Good communication is usually the best way to resolve problems like this.

Q:  I have chronic headaches as a long term after effect of viral meningitis 15 months ago. Drugs reduce the severity but do not cure the pain completely. Could acupuncture help?

A: We always tread a little cautiously around the treatment of headaches which arise from distinct pathologies like post-viral conditions. In general, the use of acupuncture treatment for headaches is both well-researched and promisingly so, as our two factsheets on headaches and migraine show:

This has even led to acupuncture being recommended in one set of NICE guidelines for cluster headaches.

 However, post viral conditions often present greater difficulty when they generate specific symptoms, as you can clearly see when you look at thee evidence for the treatment of the various chronic fatigue/post viral/ME style of problems. What would be a relatively straightforward 'fix' for some of the symptoms here does not always seem to 'take'.

 Two factors, however, predispose people to have a go at acupuncture treatment for these types of headache. First, acupuncture treats the person, not the condition, and is aimed at much on the overall recovery of balance in the system as it is in simply reducing the effects of the symptoms. I many cases the body's ability to correct its own imbalances is severely impaired by viral infections, and anything which helps the whole system to function better is likely to have great impact in retaining any benefits a treatment may have.

 Second, the Chinese medicine practitioners have looked at all of the different types of headaches for over 2500 years through an entirely different conceptual structure centred on the flow of energy. The exact nature of the presentation will point to specific types of imbalance for which there will probably be considerable secondary diagnostic information available to the practitioner. This might be in the form of changes to routine patterns which someone has just grown used to over the years, or in some cases signs from pulse or tongue diagnosis of which the patient would not be aware. This would probably give the practitioner some confidence that they could help.

 The best advice we can give, and which we invariably give with problems like this, is to visit a BAcC member local to you for an informal assessment of the situation based on what they find. In most cases they may well see an immediate set of signs and symptoms which will enable to say with confidence that they think they might be able to help. In some cases they may decide that other forms of treatment may be more suitable, and we have certainly heard of people using herbal medicine, cranial osteopathy and homoeopathy to good effect.

 In summary, we think that there may well be some benefit to be gained from acupuncture treatment, and for us the issue with headaches is usually the extent of the improvement and how sustainable this is. We hope that in your case this proves to be considerably so.

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