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Ask an expert - muscles and bones - arm - brachial neuralgia
Q. My Father has a bulging disc in his neck which is pushing against his nerve, which in turn causes him pain down his shoulder and arm when the weather is cold. It's caused his arm to be extremely weak.
Tests have proven nothing wrong with his nerves but its a few discs which are pushing against the nerve causing the problem. Doctors have suggested surgery to replace the discs.
I was wondering if Acupunture is a feasible alternative to surgery? Can you please advise?
A. This is a very difficult question to answer. Generally speaking, when there is a physical change in the structure of the body, it would be foolish to suggest without qualification that acupuncture can correct it. The neck, in particular, is an area where structural changes through wear and tear as someone gets older are very difficult to treat. That said, acupuncture may be able to reduce to an extent any inflammation which is associated with the bulging disc.
In the case of sciatica, for example, which is sometimes caused by a similar problem in the lower spine, there is some evidence that acupuncture may reduce inflammation, as we point out in our fact sheet here
However, it is quite likely, if the doctors are proposing surgery, that things have gone a bit further, and the structural changes may well continue to cause inflammation, even if acupuncture treatment provided some relief in the short term. It would probably not be wise, therefore, to consider acupuncture as an alternative to surgery.
Chinese medicine treats the person, not the disease, however, and regards each person's patterns of energy as unique and different. There may be some merit in seeking advice from one of our members tocal to you who can perhaps see your father and assess whether in his case there is greater reason to feel that acupuncture may provide positive help.
A great deal depends on how the problem is being generated. It usually manifests in a pinching of one of the nerve roots in the neck, and if the cause is physical and of this nature, then acupuncture will have little long term effect, although it may be of value in bringing some form of temporary relief. If the pain is not arising as a result of pressure at the nerve root, there may be more hope
One of the strengths of acupuncture and Chinese medicine is the different understanding of the physiology and pathology of the body. This often allows it to make sense of a symptom or a group of symptoms in ways which are different from western medicine, because whatever system of medicine one employs, the patient's account of what they feel and the visible signs are the same. Chinese medicine has developed over 2000 years with a system of its own for classifying pain and discomfort by location, strength, heat or cold nature, how it feels - sharp, dull, etc, and has a number of ways of making sense of symptoms like yours which may help to reduce the level fo discomfort you are feeling.
The best course of action is to see if one of our members local to you is happy to spare you a little time without charge to assess briefly whether your specific problem is one which they feel they may be able to help.