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Ask an expert - body - head - eyes

9 questions

We have to be very careful in answering questions about the prevention of conditions. If asked whether acupuncture is of any benefit for treating either cataract or glaucoma, we would have to say that the evidence is very thin, and that what there is of it suggests that acupuncture treatment may be a useful adjunct to conventional treatment. However, researching whether acupuncture prevented either of these conditions would require prospective studies on a scale which would be almost impossible to fund.
 
That said, the basic focus of Chinese medicine, certainly in its oldest forms and even underlying its modern ones, is not so much getting better but staying well. In ancient times the physicians were held to account if they failed to keep their charges well, and a patient seeking treatment after a problem had established itself was described as 'digging a well when he was already thirsty'. In this sense the skill of the traditional acupuncturist is to keep people well as much as it is to get them better. Keeping someone in balance was thought to stave off or hold back some of the more common deteriorations of increasing age, and while it could never be claimed that it would leave someone in completely perfect health until their eventual demise the aim would be to ensure that they did not suffer from chronic deterioration too early.
 
It is something of a leap of faith, and there is no point in providing anecdotal evidence of how long term patients seem to enjoy good health because there are so many confounding factors which make conclusions impossible to reach. However, treatment certainly won't do any harm, and may improve the overall balance in areas which people would not recognise to have been problems until they experience improvements.

It is interesting that you are able to achieve some reduction of the symptoms by complete relaxation of the upper body. This suggests either that relaxation itself is the key, for which there is considerable evidence that acupuncture may deliver short term benefts which may then extend to a more permanent solution, or that there is some structural misalignment or weakness which relaxation allows to 'reset' itself but which becomes an issue as soon as the muscles are normally loaded.
 
It is important to distinguish between those interventions which simply give a short term relief which can be reproduced but never extended, and those which can offer a permanent solution. If the cause of the problem is driven by the muscles themselves, and there are underlying mental and emotional components which allow the muscular tension to develop, there is good evidence that acupuncture can help to reduce the stress and anxiety which can often be the root cause. One frequent but unintended secondary benefit which many patients experience is feeling generally more relaxed even though this was not the problem for which they consulted a practitioner.
 
If the problem is more structural in origin, there is still a case for trying acupuncture, since there are many conditions for which there is evidence that functional treatment like acupuncture can effect structural changes. However, there would be no harm, and possibly considerable benefit, from having an 'MOT' with an osteopath or chiropractor as a first step to check the state of the upper back and neck and to assess whether a structural manipulation may not be an important part of rectifying the problem. Many patients combine treatments like acupuncture and osteopathy/chiropractic to great effect.


Q. My husband Simon was diagnosed with double vision due to restricted blood flow to the nerve that moves the eye muscle which is one of the six that control eye movement. Please would you let me know whether acupuncture could have a beneficial effect as there seem to be few other treatment options.

 

A. There is no research of which we are aware about this very specific condition; even for the 'headline' conditions we find it difficult to achieve sufficient funding to run reasonable studies.

 

 

However, Chinese medicine works from an entirely different conceptual basis, called a paradigm in science-speak, which describes the flow of energies in the body, called 'qi' in Chinese but similar to other East Asian concepts like 'prana' and 'ki', and tries to understand disease in terms of a loss of balance of energies or occasionally of blockages. The tools of the trade - needles, moxa, cupping - are used to restore balance and unblock blockages.

 

In this respect any description of blockage invites an immediate and superficial response that this might be within acupuncture's range. The reality is, though, that it might or might not be the kind of blockage which is amenable to treatment, or it may be that this is part of a wider pattern of imbalance and requires a more systemic approach. Indeed, the earliest systems of treatment were often asymptomatic and premised entirely on the belief that symptoms were indicative of an overall imbalance and working at this level alone would take care of them. The skill of the well-trained practitioner lies in determining at what level to intervene.

 

This is one of those cases where there is no substitute for a brief face to face chat with the practitioner to get a more thorough assessment of whether acupuncture might be a good treatment option, and indeed whether there are other options which you may not have considered but which the practitioner knows of. Most BAcC members are happy to provide a small amount of time without charge to enable patients to make informed choices, and using the practitioner search function on our home page will generate a map and list of practitioners in your area.

While some studies

 

 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21138389

 

seemed to give encouraging results, the most recent systematic review of trials of acupuncture for dry eye syndrome are not very conclusive.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20337604

 

However, for a number of reasons, the structure of trials are not well suited to the daily practice of acupuncture. The symptoms which you are experiencing have been described in Chinese medical literature for hundreds of years, and treatment protocols to deal with them have been used for a similar length of time. Whether these are appropriate for your specific would be a judgement which would have to be made by a practitioner able to assess your overall diagnostic signs. The fact that you have had the condition for a long time may have a bearing on how easy it is to treat, however.

 

Your best course of action would be to consult one of our members local to you to obtain an assessment of whether they think acupuncture would be appropriate. If you did decide to have treatment we would recommend that clear outcomes and regular reviews of progress are essential.

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