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Ask an expert - general - Mystery aches and pains

12 questions

Q: I suffered with guillian barre syndrome, I have foot drop in my left foot and tight calves. Would acupuncture offer any relief?


A: Many of the symptoms which persist after an episode of Guillain Barre syndrome spontaneously remit within a year, so it is unusual and unfortunate to be troubled by residual effects.


There is not a great deal of research evidence of the treatment of Guillain Barre syndrome, although a group of Chinese researchers have posted a protocol for a review about to take place


which might produce a better picture once they have searched the databases for information.


To answer your question really means to look at what traditional Chinese acupuncture attempts to do, and that is to reinstate and maintain the flow of energy, 'qi' as it is called, in the body to ensure that everything functions as it should. Conditions like Guillain Barre which interfere with the normal flow in the muscles and tendons are seen in Chinese medical thought to be causes of blockage and deficiency, and at a very simplistic level the treatment is aimed at reinstating a blocked or missing flow. Of course, in practice things are a little more sophisticated than that, because the practitioner will want to know what happened to the system as a whole to let these particular symptoms appear where they did, and to decide whether it is really a local problem or one which requires a more subtle and systemic approach. Any condition involving a change in muscle tone or function may be benefited by acupuncture, though, and even the western medical acupuncture tradition sees this as a worthwhile intervention.


However, one important factor to bear in mind is that in a small percentage of cases residual symptoms not only persist for a great deal longer, but are sometimes intractable to treatment. If you did decide to give treatment a go and contacted a BAcC member local to you, it would be very important to establish very clear outcomes in order to assess whether the treatment is having an impact and a very clear sense of how many sessions to have before reviewing whether there has been progress and whether it is sustainable. It is in everyone's interests to ensure that, in Dr Johnson's famous words, continued treatment is not the triumph of hope over experience. 



Q. I have persistent tingling and numbness in my right hand not painfull but very irritating.. Had scans, tests to no avail would acupuncture help?


A. Practitioners in the BAcC often have patients come to them after all the western tests have been done and nothing has been found, because they've heard or read that the symptoms which they describe are a part of the disease patterns understood within Chinese medicine. It is certainly the case that some patterns describe numbness and tingling in the hands as a symptom, but equally true that many people experience symptoms like these where none of the usual accompanying signs occur and for which treatment would not be as straightforward or as likely to be of benefit.
Chinese medicine has developed over thousands of years, and offers many different ways of intervening to put someone's system back in order. Symptoms such as yours may be evidence of local disturbance which might benefit from local treatment, or they may result from major functional imbalances and require more work. The best way to establish whether acupuncture would be appropriate would be to visit a BAcC member who can offer you a better assessment based in their own observations about whether your particular case has some clearcut features which suggest that acupuncture might work well.

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