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Q: I don’t think this is the normal ‘bad back’ complaint. I’ve had a bad back for probably over ten years. However, I’ve been to osteopaths and they’ve really helped relieve the pain, it’s not cured. To cut a long story short, I think the reason for my back pain is actually that my hip is ‘locked up’ and while the pain is felt in my back, the actual problem lies in my hip.
Every morning I wake up with my right hip feeling tight, this feeling goes all the way down to my feet. When I walk and run I can feel my stride isn’t right and the right leg has a smaller range of movement than my left. I can stretch, not sure which muscle it is, kind of between my bum and my hamstring….and I can feel my leg and foot relax. This stays relaxed for a short time before tightening up again.
My gut feeling is that a nerve in my hip is constantly aggravated – it doesn’t cause me direct pain but I think the muscles in my leg are tightening up to protect that nerve. Maybe the stretch releases some of the pressure on the nerve? Also, my big toe nearly always feels numb, like when you have pins and needles which make me think it's nerves.
Does this diagnosis seem probable? Do you think acupuncture could help by ‘re-setting’ the nerve?
A: We have to say, if this doesn't sound too odd, that we (well, this particular 'expert' anyway) love the challenge of a problem that has been treated and held at bay for years without having been fully sorted out. You will know from reading around the subject that acupuncture is particularly well-regarded as a treatment for back pain, as our factsheet shows
but then again, so it osteopathy, and we would be fairly sure that if the problem was a structural one, the osteopaths would have taken care of it a long time ago.
It is possible that the nerve is being constantly pinched and inflamed (entrapment is the technical term) which means that a cycle develops of inflammation causing irritation causing inflammation, and so on. Acupuncture has a fairly good track record as a treatment for inflammation, but again, the osteopathy should also have corrected the gait to the point where the nerve should gave settled down.
So, the points of interest are first the numb toe, which from a conventional understanding point to a nerve issue but from a Chinese medicine perspective indicate a loss of 'qi' or energy in the extremity, and second, a strong sense of asymmetry between right and left leading to tension and muscle spasm in the right leg. Our first questions would be about what happened when the pains started, and in particular whether there was any hint of a rotational injury, for example being throwh forward while wearing a seatbelt or twisting to pick up a heavy object. There are a number of subtle injuries caused by 'twist' injuries where the internal geometry of the body is thrown out of kilter, and these tend to resist attempts to deal with manipulation to put them right. It is rather like a functional, rather than structural, disturbance.
The numb toe could be either a systemic problem, and itself be the tip of a larger iceberg where more toes and fingers will follow eventually, or it could be an indicator of a simple blockage in the channel system. These can have profound effects; a small airlock is, after all, enough to stop a whole central heating system working. A skilled practitioner should be able, by using the pulse at the wrist, determine which is the case.
It is a rather unusual problem, and although we always stand by our public position that all of our members are equally skilled enough to be able to work from a Chinese medicine perspective on every patient who comes through the door, there are some styles of treatment which your problem suggests might be more worthwhile investigating. Our experience is that Japanese acupuncture styles are particularly good for these kinds of subtle functional shifts, and in particular for looking at these kinds of rotational problems. That said, most practitioners would be able to offer a number of very effective treatments for some of the problems you report, and we are confident that you may find that acupuncture treatment can just take you that step further, after the osteopathic treatment has set the scene, towards recovery.
If you contact a BAcC member local to you, we are sure that they will give you an honest assessment based on a face to face view of what they may be able to achieve and possibly also who may be the practitioner best suited to see what they can do.
Our fact sheet on urinary incontinence
provides a small amount of background, but mainly focuses on incontinence, stress and urgency/frequency in women. There are, however, a number of small studies such as
which point to the possibility that acupuncture may be able to help with nocturia, which is a slightly different problem.
The first thing we would ask, however, if you were a patient would be whether you had seen your GP to have your prostate gland examined. Enlargement of the gland in benign prostatic hyperplasia is one of the most frequent causes of nocturia, and if this is the case, the value of acupuncture treatment may be greatly reduced. A swelling of this kind may be amenable to treatment, but in the majority of cases it is not. There are some studies, though such as
which seem to indicate that acupuncture may have an effect on BPH.
If the prostate function is normal, the practitioner would want to assess this particular symptom in relation to whatever else was happening in the body. From a Chinese medicine pespective it is unusual to find a single symptom in an otherwise healthy person. The body is understood as a system of Organs which each perform a number of specific functions in body mind and emotion, and a symptom would generally track back to a specific Organ and with that a number of other problems which the patient may not regard as so serious (poot concentration, poor digestion, etc). The skill of the practitioner lies in understanding not simply which functions are going wrong but what the sequence of weakness has been, i.e. what has led to what. The symptom is not often exactly where the treatment is offered; treatment primarily involves making sure that the whole system works well in the simple belief that a balanced system deals with its own problems.
The best advice we can give, after seeing your GP, is to visit a BAcC member local to you and get a better view from a face to face assessment of what acupuncture treatment may well be able to offer you.
A: There are one or two studies, one very old and one more recent, which give a small amount of encouragement for the use of acupuncture treatment with blepharospasm:
These are very small studies, though, and one uses electroacupuncture, which is not a modality used by many practitioners.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, however, the symptoms commonly associated with blepharospasm, such as muscle twitching, light sensitivity and dry eyes, can all be viewed as part of a wider picture of imbalance within the body. The Chinese understanding of Organs (capitalised to emphasise the difference) is completely different from the single organ with specific physiological functions from conventional medicine. Organs in CM perform a huge range of functions on all levels, body mind and emotions, and a practitioner will look at problems such as this as evidence of fucntional disturbance in the whole system. Sometimes there are simple local problems which can be rectified by local treatment, but the majority of problems are either local problems lying on top of a number of functional disturbances which have 'allowed' the symptom to develop, or ar a direct manifestation of one Organ not performing well. If this is the case, the practitioner's skill in using the pulse at the wrist and looking at the tongue, along with other diagnostic signs, will help them to understand what is going on.
This does mean, of course, that from a Chinese medicine perspective every patient is unique and different, so it becomes extremely problematic to offer definitive views about a condition like this which only occurs about once per 20,000 population; the more of something we treat, the easier it becomes to predict the likelihood of change. The best advice we can give is to visit a BAcC member local to you and seek a brief face to face assessment of what they think acupuncture treatment may be of benefit.
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: I would like to find an acupuncturist for stopping smoking. I have had the procedure done twice . Once in 1983 and 1992, both successful.
One pin in the ear for two weeks, can touch it when needing a cigarette and the need goes away. Please can you tell me if there are any practitioners who use that technique?
A: The technique for stopping smoking by using needles in the ear is obviously not a traditional one in the strict sense. However, the use of auricular acupuncture for helping to deal with addictions of all sorts has become very popular, and as you have found before, it can work well.
As far as BAcC members are concerned, we do not keep a record of those who have added this technique to their repertoire. The only thing we can advise is that you might use our practitioner search function on the BAcC home page and ask a BAcC practitioner who works locally to you for their advice, i.e. whether they do this particular treatment or whether they know someone they trust locally who does. Our members are usually a very helpful resource in terms of finding out who is good at what in a locality.
Failing that, there is a group of practitioners who practise limited forms of acupuncture, called microsystems acupuncture, who are grouped together in the Microsystems Acupuncture Regulatory Working Group. It is highly likely that one of these may be doing exactly what you need. They can be located at http://www.macrwg.org/.
Failing that you have the two big detox assocations, SMART-UK and NADA-UK whose websites are easy to find and whose members use very limited techniques such as the five-point protocol to good effect.
Whoever you manage to find, it is important to reassure yourself that they are properly regulated and insured.
As a coda, you may also do well to investigate what additional support is now available through your local NHS outlets. The materials and secondary support have become a great deal more sophisticated in recent years as the Government has ploughed money into helping people to break the addiction to cigarettes.