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Ask the Expert
Q: I have been diagnosed with one blocked and one partially blocked fallopian tube, will I benefit from any treatment you can offer?
A: A great deal depends on what has caused the blockage. There are dozens of first hand accounts on the internet of women who have used acupuncture and herbal medicine after being diagnosed with blocked tubes who report that the treatment has caused the tubes to unblock. There are also a couple of sites where health professionals have speculated that the diagnosis of blocked tubes is not always accurate, and that some forms of internal examination can replicate the presentation of a blocked tube which on laparoscopy turns out not to be blocked and therefore may respond to treatment.
The majority view, however, seems to be that if there is a physical reason for the blockage, such as scarring following surgery, or after Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or after the appearance of adhesions through endometriosis or chlamydia, then the chances of reversing the damage with acupuncture or any other non-surgical modality are relatively poor.
We do not like to be discouraging, but there is little or no evidence from research trials or even from case studies written up by health professionals that a blocked fallopian tube can be sorted out, and IVF remains the only option besides microsurgery for a woman wanting to become pregnant. The chances of microsurgery offering a solution will depend on what caused the original blockage and how severe the blockage is.
Q: I have a recurring problem with my shoulder and neck caused by stress and tension. I have received physiotherapy and osteopathy but I would now like to try something different. Is accupunture suitable for treating shoulder/neck complaints. I think the issue is mainly muscular but also affects the nerve in my arm.
A: There is no doubt that a great many people have acupuncture treatment for neck and shoulder problems, as well as coming along for stress and tension which they themselves recognise are the cause of neck and shoulder problems. On both fronts there is a gathering body of evidence which suggests that acupuncture may be of benefit, as our factsheets on stress
and other factsheets on sports injuries and muscular problems show.
We are sure, then, that acupuncture may be a suitable treatment for your problems. You will find that many conventional medical doctors and physiotherapists also use acupuncture in the form of 'trigger point acupuncture' to unknot the muscles. Our concern, however, would be to discover what the causes of the tension were. For many people the modern workplace is a significant and unavoidable source of a great many neck and shoulder problems, and even your 'expert' is starting to suffer this afternoon, having spent the last couple of hours at a keyboard and screen without a break. If this is the case then while acupuncture may help to reduce the problems they will tend to recur. Adapting the workplace or looking at various postural techniques such as the Alexander Technique may offer a longer term solution.
In most cases, though, it is not simply the physical stress of work but the mental and often emotional stress which can be a large contributory factor. The systems of Chinese medicine were developed over two thousand years ago with the key word 'appropriate' underlying much of the understanding. All of us will, and perhaps should, experience some tension and stress in life, just as we should have our fair share of grief, anger, joy, and so on. The key thing is that there is an appropriate length of time to hang on to any emotion or mental response, and then we should be able tmove on. The stresses of modern life are relentless, however, and we find very often that they affect the system such that people get stuck. From a Chinese medicine perspective, where body mind and spirit are interlinked, a mental or physical blockage may impact the whole system in the same way, and there are means of treating both, wherever the body's reaction is no longer 'appropriate.'
The best advice we can give is that you visit a BAcC member local to you to ask if in their view your own case is suitable for treatment. We are confident that a brief face to face assessment will be far more informative that we can be here, and may offer you a better perspective on whether acupuncture or some other modality like massage or related techniques may be a better bet.
We were asked this question once in relation to xerostomia induced by radiotherapy, and our answer was, taken from our factsheet on palliative care and further supplemented:
Dry mouth (xerostomia)
A systematic review found possible benefits with acupuncture for radiotherapy-induced xerostomia (O’Sullivan 2010). Not all the inter-group differences were significant but this is typical in trials comparing acupuncture with sham acupuncture, for the latter is commonly viewed as being an active treatment itself, not a placebo, and hence may underestimate the effects of the therapy (Lundeberg 2011; Sherman 2009; Paterson 2005).The RCTs to date are few in number and small in size. Although they have produced encouraging results, and are supported by observational studies (for example, Meidell 2009), larger trials are required to achieve more robust evidence. Acupuncture may also help with xerostomia dysphagia (swallowing difficulty) in late-stage palliative care (Filshie 2003).
there is some evidence for the value of acupuncture treatment for dry mouth after radiotherapy, and the two studies below certainly seem very positive.
Clearly there is a considerable difference between the kinds of functional disturbances caused by disruption of the balance of the body's energies through normal wear and tear and the kinds of damaged brought on by injury or accident. This does mean that it is more difficult to predict whether acupuncture treatment might be of benefit. Treatment of the kind used in the studies tends to be localised or precisely targeted, and this can mean that it does not really conform to the patterns of treatment which a Chinese medicine practitioner would employ. In broad terms, however, acupuncture treatment is aimed at putting the whole system back in balance with the underlying belief that a body in balance tends to deal with symptoms itsef, and on this basis it may well be worth talking to a BAcC member local to you to see if a combination of systemic and local treatment may, in their view, be of benefit. Most BAcC members are more than happy to give up a little time without charge to give a face to face assessment of whether treatment would help.
There is a chance, of course, that the xerostomia which you are asking about is not related to cancer treatment. From a Chinese medicine perspective this makes no difference. The understanding of the dhe nechanics of the disruption of the physiology of salivation from within the Chinese medicine paradigm will be the same whatever the cause, although the cause, again seen from this perspective, may have a considerable impact on the treatment. By this we mean that radiotherapy might be seen as a cause of great heat and dryness within the system as a whole or locally, and this would almost certainly feed into the treatment strategy.
As we said above, speaking to a BAcC member local to you who can assess the problem face to face may well be the best option for you before committing to treatment.
Q: I suffer from pain and stiffness in my neck, back and shoulders caused by a build-up of 'muscle knots'. I do go for massages when I can afford however an hour of massage only serves to loosen them and within a few days they are back. I do have a regular weekly yoga class which also helps. I believe they are brought about mainly by stress and the tension this creates in my body. Sitting at a computer all day doesn't help either! Is this something that acupuncture could help with or is massage the more suitable treatment?
A: There's an expression which is very common amongst practitioners of NLP, and indeed is one of their guiding principles when they try to change bad habits - 'if you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got.' This is backed up by the secondary principle - 'if what you're doing isn't working, do something different.'
We suspect that as long as you sit at a computer all day you're probably going to get the same patterns developing. Acupuncture treatment may help to remove some of the knots and tension, but as we often say to people working 75 hour weeks, the real answer is working less - acupuncture treatment cannot make people able to perform super-human feats.
Our own recommendation would be that in the first place you do, or commission, an ergonomic assessment of your workplace. It is still amazing after twenty years of increasing computer reliance that people have machines at the wrong height and angle. The second thing we would recommend is that you look carefully at your posture, either with an osteopath or chiropractor to check for misalignment or with an Alexander teacher if it is a question of re-educating your body to adopt a good posture again. We believe that this would be the most effective route.
Of course, we'd be delighted if you chose to see a BAcC member, and you may even find that acupuncture treatment helps you to maintain your resolve to do something about your situation, as well as dealing with some of the stress and anxiety from which you suffer - there is increasingly good evidence that acupuncture can be beneficial for these problems. Ultimately, however, if you always do what you always did.......
Q: Can acupuncture be used to regulate cycles after miscarriage? Please not I DO NOT have fertility issues. I am being investigated for repeat miscarriage NOT fertility.
A: We have been asked similar questions before, and this one is indicative of the responses we give to this kind of question:
Q: I currently have no periods and am keen for my cycle to return so I can start a family. Is this something accupunture could help with?
A: There is no short answer to this problem. There are a number of reasons why a woman's periods might not be happening, and before we could give a reasonable assessment we would have to know whether your hormone levels had been checked carefully, whether you had been on the pill for any length of time before your periods stopped, whether you were underweight or anaemic - all the sorts of questions which your GP would ask and the results of the tests to which he or she would refer you.
Of course, Chinese medicine works on an entirely different theoretical basis to western medicine, and amenorrhea has been a health issue for the whole duration of its two thousand year history, so there are obviously explananations for why someone's periods have stopped which can co-exist with a western diagnosis. It is, after all, the same body, just two separate ways of looking at it. However, the importance of having undertaken all of the conventional medical tests is that there are some reasons for the lack of periods which no amount of acupuncture treatment will affect, and western methods may be more assured and more effective.
That said, there are often functional disturbances and blockages in the flow of energy, understood in Chinese medicine as a pattern of flow and balance which maintains health bodily function, and the correction of these may, if there are no underlying problems which make it impossible, get the system moving again.
There is very little research into amenorrhea, because as the books will always say, this is a symptom, not a problem itself, and such research as does exist will be into the specific causes as identified in western medicine. The best advice we can give you is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment of your signs and symptoms, and also more importantly for a brief discussion of how the problem developed - were the periods sporadic and then stop, did they stop suddenly, and so on. Once they have had this brief chat with you they will be able to offer you an informed view of whether acupuncture treatment can help you.
What we would add to this is that the issue of repeated miscarriage is something on which a practitioner may be able to offer a view from a Chinese medicine perspective as well. Although this problem is most often and possibly best understood from a conventional medical viewpoint, the Chinese obviously had a very clear understanding of what made for favourable conditions for conception and what caused problems, and there are a small number of reasons from a Chinese medical perspective which may explain what is happening.
It is important to note, however, that the earliest systems of traditional chinese medicine were largely asymptomatic, i.e. although the patient could give a precise account of the problems they were experiencing, the practitioner used his or her skill to determine what needed to be done to put the system as a whole back into better balance, in the belief that a system in balance puts symptoms right of its own accord. It is rather like helping the system to help itself. From this perspective, it is easier to see the task as better overall functioning than the resolution of specific problems. We have often found that patients can engage with this as a strategy better than something expressed in more specific terms like 'releasing cold from the womb'.