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Q: My wife has been suffering. from a  brain tumour for the past six years. She has had two surgeries and two radio therapies having been operated ten days ago. Doctors say tumours may recur in future. Can it be prevented by acupuncture treatment is it safe and can it be treated along with allopathic medicine?

A:  We are sorry to hear of your wife's predicament.

We have to be honest and say that there is no evidence that we have, either formal through studies or informal through anecdotal accounts, that acupuncture treatment could prevent the recurrence of brain tumours. We would not even be able to say how this could be measured; sometimes tumours simply do no recur and it would be impossible to determined whether something like acupuncture had been central to this happening.

The best that we can say is that acupuncture treating done according to traditional principles is aimed at balancing up the whole system to optimise its functions in the simple belief that a system in balance is  better equipped to deal with symptoms as they arise. This may have the impact of improving someone's ability to deal with quite aggressive conventional treatment, and may even have the effect of slowing down the progress of a chronic degenerative condition. More than this, though, we could not say.

Each person is different, however, and the only real way to get a sense of what may be possible for 'non-standard' conditions like this is to visit a practitioner and have a face to face chat so that they can see what is going on with the whole system. Most BAcC members are more than happy to sit down with a prospective patient for a short chat without charge to assess the potential benefits of treatment, and we hope that your wife is well enough to make such a visit.

As far as safety is concerned, acupuncture remains one of the safest forms of treatment around, with some of the lowest incidences of adverse events. It can also be used successfully alongside conventional treatments, and all acupuncturists are trained to ensure that they take conventional treatment into account when formulating treatment plans, especially when this treatment can render a patient immuno-compromised and not quite so well defended as they would normally be. You can read about acupuncture safety as


Q:  I have a muscular skeletal disorder and am  currently seeing a physio.   I have been in pain for 3months.  The pain is in my shoulder blade,top of back and in  my neck.  Would accupuncture help?  I have been told it more of a mechanical probem.

A: It depends who has told you it's a mechanical problem. We often advise patients who come to see us with musculo-skeletal problems to visit osteopath and chiropractor colleagues if we feel that there are mechanical adjustments to be made. This can often save a great deal of time, and we can then take over by encouraging the better functioning of the muscles to try to retain the structural change.

That said, there is some evidence suggesting that acupuncture treatment may be of benefit in treating neck and shoulder pain, as our factsheet shows:

As always the studies are far from conclusive because there are never enough of the right size, but what there is is quite encouraging. We also have plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that acupuncture treatment can effect structural change by encouraging the musculature to function as it should.

Each case is unique and different, however, and especially with necks and shoulders it is only really possible to offer a professional view by seeing what is actually happening. The best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief chat about what may be possible. Most are happy to offer a brief assessment without charge, and this will enable you to meet them and see where they work.

Q: I went for acupuncture  to improve my kidney function and hearing ability. Six  needles were inserted for one hour during the treatment.  Would there be any effect if the needles were nserted for 1hour? I heard it should be done only in 45 minutes. 

A: There are no hard and fast rules for how long a needle has to be left in place during treatment. There are  frequently used traditions in this country which require that for stimulating energy it is enough to insert the needle, twist it gently and then remove it immediately. At the other extreme there are occasions when a needle is left in until it has done its job, the assessment of which might be made by a physical change in a muscle or end of a headache, or by subtle signs on the pulse at the wrist which indicate that the treatment has taken.

The fact that every person is different makes it impossible to say exactly how long a needle may be left in. There is no danger from over-doing it, though. The vast majority of points used in day to day practice have a self-limiting effect - once they have done their job they can't 'overshoot' by charging something up too much or releasing a pressure valve until the system bleeds dry. There is a natural tendency to homeostasis, a kind of equilibrium where the body reaches a still point. Acupuncture treatment guides the body back to this point, working on the premise that the needle is supplying what the body needs, and once the body no longer has a need, the treatment stops. This is why words like 'appropriate' abound in Chinese medicine, meaning suitable for what the person and their balance needs.

The only precaution we take in situations like this is to ensure that someone who has been in deep relaxation for an hour is safe to drive or undertake skilled tasks. Our experience is that the longer people remain still while being needled, the deeper their relaxation can go.

Q:  My dad had a heart attack in  2005 and he has an stent in his heart. He has recently had a lot of pains in the  back of his shoulder going to his neck and his left arm.  Do you know if acupuncture is the solution for it or if it's good for him or not please.

A:  We think we can safely say based on what you have told us that there is no reason not to have acupuncture. There are very few contraindications for acupuncture, reasons why we could not treat someone, and having had a heart attack and stent fitted does not pose a problem.

Whether acupuncture could help or not depends a great deal on what the cause of the pains is. For the kinds of pains which your father is getting, and taken together with his medical history, I think most of us would probably want to refer him back to his GP or cardiologist for further testing and an all clear for all involvement of the heart or other internal organs. Some of the aches and pains which people have are what is known as referred pain, where the pain is actually starting in an internal organ but is perceived by the body as a muscular problem on the surface. The classic example is angina pectoris which can present as a pain the left shoulder and arm. Given that your father has had a stent fitted it implies that there has been some atheroma/plaque-like material in the arteries and this may have caused another artery to be sounding warning bells.

However, if the pains are simply muscular, there is a good chance that acupuncture treatment may be of benefit. As we point out in our factsheet

there is some reasonable evidence for the successful use of acupuncture as a means of relieving this kind of pain.

We always advise people to see a BAcC member for a brief face to face assessment; this is by far the best way to establish just how much benefit acupuncture may be able to offer. In your father's case this is doubly so, just to make sure that these are not pains which we would do better to heed as a warning sign than simply treat and try to disperse.

Q:  I had my first session of acupuncture on Thursday morning, Straight after it finished I got a dull ache in my lower back where I had the treatment.  It just got worse to the point I now can't stand up straight as the pain is horrendous, no painkillers are helping, is this normal and what can I do?

A:  We are sorry that this reply will have taken a few days to reach you - we channel all our responses through a single portal to keep track of replies and this only operates Tuesday to Thursday.

We are sorry to hear that you are in such great discomfort. We are aware that there are times when treating back and neck problems where they can become very much exacerbated when treatment starts, to the extent that it feels as though something terrible has happened. This is never the case; acupuncture remains one of the safest healthcare interventions in use in the UK. It is generally thought, however, that the treatment encourages the body back into better shape and this can cause discomfort or even inflammation when ligaments and tendons are asked to work as they should and not in the often mechanically disadvantageous way they have been doing.  This is by means universally agreed by all practitioners, but whatever the reason if it is a reaction to treatment the chances are that the effects will have worn off by the time you read this and you will be seeing an improvement.

If the pains are a direct result of the treatment this may be because one of the needles has caused minor bruising in the area which may be causing some nerve irritation. This too should subside very quickly.

However, we are concerned that you report that the painkillers are not touching the pain, and in the circumstances if this remains the case when you receive this it might be a good idea to talk to the practitioner and possibly your GP about what is happening. There are two possibilities. First is that there has been some physical damage from the needles, and if so, because accidents can always happen, you need to get this checked immediately. Second is that the pain is not directly related to the treatment but happens to have coincided with it. This is not an attempt to evade responsibility, but we have seen a small number of situations where the arguments have kicked off about whether the treatment did or did not cause the problem while the problem itself has gone untreated. The priority has to be to establish what is causing such pain, and to address it. Causation can be sorted out later.

We hope, though, that by the time you read this the pains will have subsided. The vast majority of side effects from treatment are very short lived, and these themselves are few in number.

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