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Ask an expert - body - skin conditions

37 questions

Balanitis can be a very uncomfortable and distressing condition, but we have found no research articles which offer any evidence that acupuncture treatment can be of benefit. We would be very surprised to have done so, at least in English. Though not rare, the condition is not in the forefront of more common problems for which the use of acupuncture is tested, and although there are very likely to be research papers in Chinese, the vast majority of these are never translated into English and as such are difficult to track down.

All that we can say is that the primary aim of traditional acupuncture treatment is to treat the person, not the presenting problem with which they attend a clinic. Although people talk of seeing a BAcC member for their migraines or backache, the underlying premise of Chinese medicine is that each person is a unique balance of energies, and that understanding why the named condition appears requires a full understanding of the person in whom it appears. This is not a perspective unqiue to Chinese medicine; the grear Canadian physician William Osler once wrote 'it is much more important to know what sort of patient has a disease than what sort of disease a patient has'. From a Chinese medicine perspective the important thing to establish is why a problem such as this does not resolve of its own accord, i.e. what is happening in the energetics of the body which prevents a natural process of healing.

Generally speaking we find that most members are adept at treating both constitutionally to balance the whole system while at the same time using more local and targeted treatments for some of the more distressing aspects of a condition such as acute pain or discomfort. This does not necessarily mean needles in the affected area, you will be relieved to hear, but often takes advantages of energetic pathways which traverse an affected area by activating points which have an effect at a distance.

Our best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you and ask whether they think, based on some of the wider diagnostic information they can glean, that acupuncture treatment may be of benefit to you. In the case of skin problems of any type, we often advise someone to seek the advice of an acupuncture practitioner who also uses Chinese herbal medicine. In our experience this is often a very potent way of dealing with skin problems. Since 90% of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) membership are also BAcC members, it is not that difficult to use both databases to locate a practitioner close to where you live.

The absence of evidence for treating balanitis means that you should set very clear review periods if you decide to go ahead with acupuncture treatment, and also try to establish measurable outcomes, something which will demonstrate whether or not the treatment is having an effect. In our experience, it is quite easy to clock up a large number of treatments with no discernible change unless clear ground rules are drawn up at the beginning, and if this is not done it can create dissatisfaction.

Q:  Can my 15 year old son receive acupuncture? He has severe eczema.  This is a last resort we have tried everything.

A:  The use of acupuncture for skin conditions is not particularly well researched, as our fact sheet shows:

There may be a number of reasons for this, one of which is that skin conditions form a 'fuzzy' set where the definition and location are not always precise enough to be testing like with like, a pre-condition of the randomised double blind control trial much loved by western science.

That said, there is a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence within the profession about good reactions to treatment, especialy a reduction in the amount of itching and discomfort. One has to be cautious, however; a very common effect of initial treatment is a radical improvement followed by a settling back to nearly the same state as before. We have seen a number of people become even more disheartened when this has happened, even though we have said that short-term results are unlikely and if they appear usually unsustainable.

It has to be said, though, that the collective view inside the BAcC is that skin problems are usually best treated with a combination of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. There is something about the precision with which the formulae are designed and the daily routine of treatment which clearly seems to evince powerful changes in the system. Most members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine are also BAcC acupuncturists, and finding someone in your area who practises both may be a very good way forward. The fact that your son is 15 may also be in his favour; although he takes up as much space as an adult, he is still a child and children can often respond much more quickly to treatment.

Our best advice to you is to see if there are BAcC members local to you who also use Chinese Herbal medicine, and to see if they can offer you a brief face to face assessment of whether they believe tahat acupuncture and herbal treatment can help your son.

Q:  Would accupuncture cure edema ?  Ive got it on a delicate part of the body due to an operation which I had 4 months ago  and after two months edema developed. Ive tried to alleviate  it by wearing tight underwear and massaging it down with vaselinge.  It goes away in the afternoon and evening but it  appears again in the morning.  Ive tried accupuncture for my eczema and it clears it up.

A: The fact that you have had acupuncture for eczema and it has worked for what can be a very intractable condition is a very good sign, and means that if it could work, it probably would.

 The concern that we have, though, is what may be causing post-operative swelling. In the first instance we would have to say that you should see your GP and then try to get a referral back to the surgeon who performed the procedure on you. 'Delicate' narrows the range of procedures, but not enough for us to be able to offer specific comment. After an operation any swelling should be investigated. The fact that it goes down on massage is probably a sign that it is not a major problem, but without further detail we can't really say more.


As a general comment, where there are local weaknesses caused by operations, sometimes by the scarring and scar tissue caused by incision, acupuncture treatment applied locally can have a significant effect. This may be even more the case if there is an underlying systemic weakness which prevents healing from taking place as efficiently as one might hope. The first port of call, though, is your GP. 



Q:  12 months ago I suffered from a herpes simplex infection on my face, it was severe and my face was very swollen. It was treated with antibiotics. Since then I have had very very dry skin on my face and for the last few months a very dry scalp and now my hair is thinning. The lotions/shampoos have been prescribed but I am still suffering. I am now feeling very low, especially with the hair loss. I have just suddenly thought of acupuncture, which I have had successfully before for stressed shoulders, could it possibly help my dry skin?

A:  Acupuncture treatment certainly wouldn't do any harm, but whether it might definitely do any good is more difficult to say. We have a factsheet on another variety of the herpes virus, herpes zoster or shingles


which gives some encouragement, but the evidence for the treatment of herpes simplex is a great deal thinner on the ground and dates back to nearly twenty years ago, at least what we could find.


From a Chinese medicine perspective, the name which one gives to a condition is less important than the symptoms which the patient has and the diagnostic signs which in tandem with them enable a practitioner to identify what is happening from a Chinese medicine perspective. The dryness which manifests on your face and head may be a local problem which results from the virus you have had, or it may be the local manifestation of a much more general systemic problem. The skill of the practitioner lies in being able to ensure that treatment is aimed not simply at eradicating the symptom but ensuring that it does not return.


The best advice we can give is that you seek a brief face to face consultation with a BAcC member local to you to see whether acupuncture may be a good option for you. We do need to note a slight caution, however, and that is that we think that if you have not done so you should make sure your conventional medical practitioner is aware of what is happening. 


Q:  My son is three years old and suffers severely with eczema.  Do you treat children?  I will try anything to help take this horrible condition away.  He has suffered since three month old and it is so distressing .

A: Interestingly enough, the issue of treating children is very much a live one in the BAcC at the moment. Our members have always treated children, but over the years there has been an increasing recognition that children are not the same as little adults. Specialist courses have developed, and the BAcC has now recognised that there are expert levels of practice which might entitle a member to advertise themselves as an expert in treating children. The guidelines which will underpin this are not quite ready for publication, and so at this point we cannot give out the names of members who might meet these standards.



 However, if you use google with your location, 'acupuncture' and 'children' we are fairly confident that you will quickly identify someone local to you who has undertaken specialist postgraduate training. That is not to say that the ordinary BAcC member cannot treat children, only that someone who makes the treatment of children a focus in their practice is likely to have greater experience about dealing with children and recognising the patterns of disease unique to children.



Using google will also very rapidly identify the two or three major course providers for paediatric acupuncture, and some of these provide drop down lists of practitioner by area.



It is also commonly held view in the profession that skin problems are particularly benefited by herbal medicine, and finding someone with this additional string to their bow might be an advantage. Our members are often very helpful at directing prospective patients to members within their area whom they know personally and trust as experts in their field, and if all else fails you could almost certainly get a good steer from a practitioner local to you.








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