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Q: I am interested to know whether acupuncture is a realistic option for my partners pain issues she experiences. She underwent a routine operation 18 months ago and contracted a serious infection which took a further three operations to gain control of. As such she has been left with nerve damage across her right flank which causes her debilitating pain. The NHS have run all the tests they can to get to the root of the pain including a further operation to clear some adhesions but it has all led to nothing. She is still in pain and now has been left to deal with taking Pregablin to help overcome the pain by blocking the nerves. It isn't working and we are looking for alternatives to help wherever possible. Does this sound like something acupuncture could help with as I have to be honest I know quite little about the therapy.
A: As you are no doubt aware from your own searches, acupuncture treatment has been used for a considerable time in pain management centres in conventional medicine, and has developed a considerable reputation for being an effective means of pain control, as our factsheet on chronic pain demonstrates:
The main reason for this is that adequate research is one of the criteria for the use of techniques within conventional medicine, and the fact that the neurotransmitters involved in pain are so easily monitored and measured lends itself to the gold standards of research. The usual question is not whether acupuncture works, but to what extent and how sustainable the effect is. Sadly this can sometimes become a financial issue: can someone afford frequent treatment to maintain a level of pain control?
Of course, it is not simply the control or management of the pain with which the practitioner will be mainly concerned. Within the theories of Chinese medicine, based on the understanding of the body as a flow of energy called 'qi', pain only arises where there is deficiency, excess or blockage in the energy patterns, and the practitioner will be looking not simply at the affected area but at the whole system to see whether the problem is local or a local manifestation of a systemic weakness. In your wife's case, though, the practitioner would probably take a very close look at the infection site and the subsequent operations which took place. There are times when the simple act of cutting tissue can cause a break in the flow of energy, and we have come across many cases where even a well-healed scar has blocked the flow in a channel. When you consider that there may well be thicker keloid scar tissue and adhesions as well as surface interruptions it is possible that acupuncture treatment may offer some hope.
Given the unique nature of each patient, and in your wife's case the unique nature of the problems she has had the best advice that we can give is that she arranges to see a BAcC member local to her for a brief assessment of the specifics of her problems. A face to face assessment may give a great deal more information and afford a better view than we can offer here. As for other options, we cannot suggest anything else, but it may well be that a practitioner seeing the problem may have ideas about what else may be possible. We all network a great deal to ensure that each patient gets the best treatment for them, even if it is not our own.
Q: I have a shaking hand which sometimes affects my voice. The doctor says it is involuntary tremor. Would acupuncture help?
A: We have been asked a similar question in the past about benign essential tremor, and our response then was:
A: There are occasions when acupuncture can achieve surprising results, and if you undertake an internet search you will find a case report written up by one the American medical acupunture practitioners http://www.medicalacupuncture.org/aama_marf/journal/vol1_1/tremor.html which outlines a very successful intervention. There is also a paper http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20214065 which suggests that acupuncture alongside conventional treatment may be more effective in reducing symptoms. We have to say, however, that these are far from the norm, and benign essential tremor can prove very resistant to treatment. The point which we also have to emphasise, however, is that Chinese medicine works on the basis of an entirely different conceptual structure from conventional medicine, premised as it is on the understanding of the body as a flow of energy, called 'qi', and what happens when that flow is disrupted or disturbed. This means that symptoms as they are described by a patient and signs observed by the practitioner are filtered and made sense of within this 'grid', and that can mean on occasion finding an explanation which would not be a part of western medicine thinking at all. Were this to be the case, there may be treatment options which a Chinese medicine practitioner would employ to address the problem as it was defined within this system, and with 2000 years of development and refinement there are going to be occasions where a solution is found which western medicine cannot match. This is still in the realms of 'unlikely', but it would be nonetheless be possible. There is a category in Chinese diagnostics called 'internal wind', for example, which can manifest as shaking and tremors in the limbs, and a fairly direct treatment used to address it. We could not make this kind of determination remotely, however, and you would need to see a BAcC member local to you to seek advice on whether this particular presentation of the condition lent confidence to the practitioner that there was something they could do. Most members are willing to give up some time without charge to advise prospective patients on the suitability of treatment, and we would recommend this as your best option to get a clearer picture.
We think that this remains sound advice for your problem. The point we did not make in the earlier reply was that a Chinese medicine practitioner will look at a symptom or group of symptoms in relation to the whole picture. This will mean taking a detailed case history covering all aspects of someone's health and well-being as well as looking at their medical and personal history. The system of medicine is predicated on the inter-connection of body, mind and spirit, and their inter-actions, so there are all sorts of aspects of health which a practitioner will try to make sense of. Symptoms rarely just appear, but in conventional medicine there is perhaps less time spent, or able to be spent, looking at the wider picture to see where they might have come from. This is not a criticism; one of the frequent comments about complementary medicine is that it is the time spent with the patient which accounts for some of its success, with conventional practitioners rarely able to spend a long time getting a comprehensive picture.
A: We were asked this question a couple of years ago (unusually infrequent a question for such a frequently occurring problem) and the reply we gave then was:
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.
We think that this still represents good advice, even if we say so ourselves! 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.
Q: I have lots of scars on my skin which causes my skin to have a lot of discolouration. Especially on my arm my butt and legs. Currently my butt hasgoosebump like bumps and sort of acne scarring. I've been looking for many treatments and have also used home remedies like lemon but the results are disappointing.
A: We are not rally sure what to advise in cases like yours. Our first thought would be that we would need a great deal more information about how the scarring arose, and what the discolouration was, i.e whether it was the scar tissue which was causing the skin to be discoloured or whether the skin around the scar tissue was also discoloured. Scar tissue itself is not that easy to remove or modify, but there are occasions when it can be affecting the flow of energy in the surrounding area, and this can in turn lead to secondary problems. If the scarring itself is the result of a body-wide problem like acne, then there may be something which treatment of the system as a whole can do.
Generally speaking the advice we give to most enquirers is that a visit to a BAcC member local to them is probably their best option to get a brief face to face assessment of what acupuncture treatment may be able to offer, especially when the person has a problem for which there may be far too many possible causes and solutions for us to go through here.
The received wisdom inside the profession is that skin problems are often amenable to a mixture of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, and it may be worthwhile finding someone who practises both. Most of the members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) are also BAcC members, so this may be the best route for you to pursue to get a more detailed view of what may be possible.
Q: I'm an 88 female and have difficulty in walking & very painful neuropathy. I feel my life would improve if I didn't have chronic constipation. Is there any one not too far from Chessington who could help me, please?
A: Rather surprisingly for a very common problem there has been very little research over the years. A systematic review published two years ago
made encouraging noises about the use of acupuncture, but the studies were all done in China and there have been none in the West of which we are aware.
In clinical practice we have found, rather counter-intuitively for a system of medicine which is all about improving flow and movement, that constipation has been more difficult to treat than its opposite. We think it may be that the factors which predispose people to constipation are more complex, and where people are taking an increasing number of medications to help them with chronic pain, constipation is a common side effect, especially with the opiate painkillers (codeines and the like). There are often dietary factors at play too.
However, one of the great strengths of Chinese medicine is that a symptom is never treated in isolation from the whole pattern within which it sits, and it may well be that a skilled practitioner looking at how the whole system functions will find further evidence to help refine what might be done to balance the whole system up and encourage better function. Our members are also aware of the kinds of food which would affect the energetic balance and can often give people simple but effective advice about the types of food they eat and especially the times at which they eat it, both of which can have a profound effect.
The best advice is always to see if a BAcC member local to you is able to offer you a few moments without charge to give a slightly better informed view of what might be possible based on a face to face assessment. If you look on our homepage at www.acupuncture.org.uk you will see a practitioner search function in the top right corner which enables you to use your postcode to identify people near you. We tried a random search based on a Chessington postcode and 13 names came up, at least one or two of which should be within easy reach.
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