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Ask an expert - body - skin conditions

47 questions

Q:  I have alodinya feels like permanent sunburnt but also results in pain in different areas. I have had an MRI scan and the  results they don't think are anything to do with spine damage. They think it is difficult to associate it with sensory symptoms.  Would acupuncture help?

A:  We are very sorry to hear that you have this problem; it can be very disheartening to have something for which no clear-cut cause can be found.

We have searched the literature for any evidence of acupuncture being used to treat this, but weren't at all surprised to find nothing of significance. The condition usually presents itself as a feature or symptom of something which is already named and classified, and treatment usually focuses on that specific problem.

However, the great strength of Chinese medicine is that it has a 2500 year history of treating problems not by name but by how things appear, and understanding them within a system which is based on energy flow. This has evolved to use a great many classifications based on observation and lived experience, like feelings of heat and cold in the body, and also a complex understanding of the inter-connectedness of parts of the system. Once one steps aside from the disease label and asks more specific questions about where the sensations are, how they feel, and what makes them change this can often point to a series of possible causes, many of which are treatable.

It has long been received wisdom in the acupuncture and Chinese medicine world that skin problems are often best treated with a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Since most of the practitioners on the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine are also BAcC members too this may be the best option to pursue. However, herbs are to everyone's taste, and we are pretty confident that acupuncture alone could be just as effective.

The best advice that we can give, and often do give, is that seeing a problem face to face is always the best way to establish whether something is treatable. Most BAcC members are more than happy to give up a few minutes without charge to have a look at the problem and give more specific advice, and this also gives you a chance to meet them and see where they work before committing to treatment.


Q:  I am in the 5th week of shingles on my neck, scalp, ear, shoulder and upper chest Scabs all gone but I am left with acute skin sensitivity and itching - the latter mainly at night. I received anti vial medication and am now on Amytriptilyne and take paracetomol.  Do you think it is too early to consider acupuncture?

A:  Quite the reverse!

As with a great many conditions viewed from a Chinese medicine perspective the earlier treatment commences the better. The logic is somewhat similar to the use of antivirals like acyclovir in conventional medicine - get in early before the problem takes root.

Our factsheet on herpes zoster quotes some quite positive research study material

and although the studies are not large enough or methodologically acceptable for advertising purposes, they are suggestive of the usefulness of giving acupuncture a go.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, shingles is a combination of Wind and Heat, but note the capital letters! We are talking about categories within an entirely different diagnostic system which describes opportunistic infections as 'invasions' and which sees the expulsion of them as the primary task. The earlier this is done the better. What happens of the condition is left untreated too long is that it becomes what the Chinese call a 'lingering pathogenic factor' with different characteristics. To some extent the body gets used to this being a part of its make-up, and removing it can be more of a challenge. This may sound rather odd, but all conditions eventually become a part of who we are or believe ourselves to be, and there can be quite a great deal of 'habit' energy involved in a presentation which can be a problem to dispel.

Five weeks is still relatively early, though, so it would be well worth your while to visit a BAcC member local to you for an informal chat about what acupuncture treatment may be able to offer. Shingles is a horrible condition whose effect far outweighs its apparent simplicity of appearance, so we wish you well in limiting its nastiness.

Q:  Can acupuncture treat lump tissue under the skin? I have a lump about 2 inch diameter on my  back, I have been told I can have it surgically removed but it will leave a cavity but it is not cancerous. 

A:  It depends what the lump is. The first thought when asked these questions is that someone may have something like a lipoma, the fatty lumps which sometimes appear for no reason and in no specific places. However, removing these does not leave a cavity once the lipoma has been removed, only a small post-operative scar, and the fact that you have been told that there will be a cavity indicates that there may have been some changes to the tissues immediately beneath the skin.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, anything which manifests in this way is simply seen as a change in the energetic flow of the body, and in theory anything which manifests because of energetic blockage should be able to be dispersed by using needles to get the energy flowing. A very common presentation in clinic is Dupuytrens contracture where a fibrous lump gathers on the tendons of the palm of the hand causing the fingers  to be permanently hooked, and there are many case studies of people having successfully used acupuncture to treat this. The treatment is usually quite local rather than systemic, and very often more 'aggressive' than we would normally perform. However, you only ever read case studies which work, and we suspect a far greater number have failed. Everything works for some people, but it is rare for something to work for everyone.

We suspect that the best and only advice we can give is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a more informed view of what may be possible. The fact that the removal will leave a cavity suggests that there has been permanent change to some of the adjacent tissue, and there are limits to what any form of therapy can achieve. However, at very worst you would get to chat to a helpful acupuncturist  for a short while, and have a much clearer idea of not only what they can offer, but what else they may recommend based on what they can see. We often network with fellow professionals to ensure that patients find the most appropriate care and interventions for their problems

Q:  I am very slowly recovering from Shingles around an eye, forehead and scalp. Male aged nearly 77 can you advise me if acupuncture can help the pain, nerve tingling and general discomfort. If so a member practising near CM24 8RW. Stansted Essex.

A: Shingles is one of the conditions where the evidence is not yet sufficient to be conclusive, as our factsheet shows

but where there is sufficient clinical experience for us to believe that where we can treat early in the presentation of the condition there may be some good possibility for reducing the severity of the outbreak. This parallels the western approach where the use of acyclovir as soon as possible is often the best way to contain an outbreak.

Once the condition has settled into the more long term chronic presentation the focus of treatment is more on trying to reduce the discomfort of the residual symptoms. The use of acupuncture for chronic pain is well documented, and in fact was one of the most significant areas of research after Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s which saw an explosion of interest in the West. The key question with pain relief or pain control is exactly how much relief the treatment gives and how sustainable this is. This is unanswerable without looking at the individual case, and indeed, Chinese medicine is all about treating the individual as much as the symptoms, and how well someone can respond depends to a degree on how well their overall system is functioning.

We certainly think it would be worthwhile chatting to one of our members local to you. Most are willing to give a little time without charge to prospective patients to let them get a sense of what might be possible. 

We cannot give individual referrals, but we have tried your postcode in the search facility on our home page and it generated a number of hits close by.

Q:  I am 61 years old female and I have had a non scaly erythemous rash for about a year. It started on one inner thigh and has spread to the other, the abdomen and under my arms. It can be sore and itchy at times. I have seen a dermatologist but there is no diagnosis. Can you recommend acupuncture and/or a local acupunctuist.

A:  We are always intrigued by problems such as this. As you may already know from more general reading on the website, traditional acupuncture is based on a theory of energy called 'qi', and its rhythms, flow and balance across the body. The energy flows in distinct patterns on the surface of the body, and each channel or meridian, as they are called, is connected to one or more Organs, the functional units within the system which overlap slightly with the western concept of an organ but are understood to have far wider functions on all levels.

What this means is that when someone develops a rash which spreads over time, there are several ways of looking at what is happening. It could be a problem in a specific channel, and the pattern of the rash's development may well outline the path of a channel and its successors, or it may point to an underlying pathology in the Organ which is generating Heat in this case which is being directed away from the Organ to the outside. The skilled practitioner will then be doing their own detective work to see whether the pattern involves just the Organ which is possibly generating the symptoms, or whether it is reacting to patterns of disharmony elsewhere. Chinese medicine is a great deal more than simply a correspondence between a symptom and the use of a number of points, and the sophistication of the understanding of aetiology and pathology which leads to the unique and individualised treatment is not as well understood yet as it might be. That is out continuing challenge!

The one additional point we would make is that the received wisdom inside our profession is that Chinese herbal medicine is often the preferred modality for treating skin problems. CHM gained some considerable exposure in the 1980s and 1990s when one particular London clinic had queues going around the block for skin problem treatments, many of which we successful. The reality is that any trained Chinese herbalist belonging to the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine or the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine will offer the same standard of care. Most RCHM members are also BAcC members, and this may offer the best option.

On balance, based on what you have told us there may be straightforward acupuncture treatments which can help with what you have. We cannot make individual recommendations, mainly because we take the view that all of our members are equally well qualified in what they do to offer the same level of quality service. Our postcode database search on the home page will identify at least half a dozen practitioners in close proximity to you.


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