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Ask an expert - body - head - eyes

11 questions

The interesting word in your question is 'blocked'. As you probably know from looking at our website Chinese medicine is based on an entirely different theoretical basis from conventional medicine, what is often called a different paradigm. The essence of Chinese medicine is a belief that the body, mind, emotions and spirit are all manifestations of an energy called 'qi' whose proper flow and balance means that everything functions the way it is supposed to. If this flow becomes blocked or disturbed in any way, then functional disturbances appear, often affecting all 'levels' of the system and for which needles are used by the practitioner to restore flow.
When someone reports two 'separate' blockages in the same general area of the body it makes one question immediately whether the energy of that area is flowing as well as it might, and a skilled and experienced practitioner could determine quite quickly whether, from the Chinese medicine perspective, there was something which might be done. Even if there were no immediately obvious signs in the area itself, the principles of Chinese medicine are founded on a notion of overall balance which means that symptoms are less critical, being indicators of a wider imbalance in the system rather than the necessary focus of attention. It would be worth your while to visit a BAcC practitioner local to you for an informal assessment of whether they believe that acupuncture treatment may be of benefit to you.
That said, we have to say that the research evidence for the treatment of both conditions with acupuncture is a little bit thin. There are a few studies, but one of the key factors in undertaking research from a conventional perspective is trying to reduce the variables, and this means being able to define clearly what the problem is. Both blocked tear ducts and blocked ears have several possible causes, and this means that comparing like with like becomes more difficult, and the results less reliable. What research we have identified is of relatively poor quality, and if we were making recommendations based solely on that we would have to say that it would not be worth pursuing. However, our clinical experience is that where there are clear energetic blockages treatment can sometimes have a very direct effect, and it would certainly be worth seeking advice from a BAcC member local to you.  

A great deal depends on what is causing the dark circles to appear. Normally we all associate dark circles under the eyes with tiredness, but assuming that this is not the case with your question, there are a number of diagnostic patterns within Chinese medicine for which dark circles might indicate an underlying weakness of energy, or 'qi' as the Chinese call it. Some people's inherited energy, for example, can have been compromised by the health of either parent at conception or by a difficult pregnancy. In these sorts of cases, their management of their life has to be a little more careful, i.e. they may not be able to manage 60 hour working weeks and party all weekend. In some cases the dark circles are a permanent feature.
The key thing to bear in mind is that this will be one symptom or sign amongst a number of others, and treatment would generally be focused on the underlying imbalance. You will see, however, a growing number of websites which promise to do away with dark circles and other signs with facial or cosmetic acupuncture. The BAcC's view is that these procedures are useful when used in the context of a traditional diagnosis and treatment of the whole system. If they are simply applied as one-off symptomatic treatments in many cases whatever gains are made will be lost very rapidly. That is not to say that there may not be cases where this is a sign of local stagnation which acupuncture might help to clear, but in the majority of cases treating the whole system would probably be necessary as well.
We cannot give out referrals to specific members who focus on this kind of work, but it is a relatively straightforward search using google to find a BAcC member in your area who also does facial or cosmetic acupuncture. There are indeed a number of organisations set up by BAcC members as support networks for people doing this kind of work, and they have searchable databases of members who have taken postgraduate training in this area. We recommend that you find someone who is both a BAcC member and trained in cosmetic acupuncture to assess whether treatment may be of benefit to your specific needs.   

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.

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