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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:  Three years ago my partner had 2 discs removed from his spine and has been in severe pain in his back and legs ever since. Would acupuncture help him ?

A:  A great deal depends on the extent of the physical changes which have occurred in the operation and whether the vertebrae have been fused. If the physical structure is now such that the spinous processes constantly  impinge nerves then the chances are that the best one could hope for is to turn down the volume a little.

This is certainly an aspect of acupuncture practice which has been thoroughly researched since Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s. The sight of people having operations without anaesthetic meant that there was an upsurge of research into acupuncture for pain relief, and quite an impressive amount of research into the effects of acupuncture on the release of endorphins and enkephalins, the body's natural painkillers. Of course, the issue with this kind of treatment is that like all painkillers they wear off, and the rather unfortunate equation is between cost and effectiveness. If treatment can reduce pain for a significant time then the cost of doing this on a regular basis becomes the main issue.

This kind of use of acupuncture is not really traditional acupuncture, though, and we would have perhaps one or two ways of considering what is happening based on our view that the body is a system of energy in movement and that pain arises where the energy (called 'qi' in Chinese medicine) does not flow as it should. This can mean in some cases that post-operative pain can have as much to do with the blockage in the flow of qi caused by the surgery as  the problem which the surgery was intended to correct.  Even scar tissue can act as  a block.

However, we would not want this to be read in a way that gives unrealistic expectations. Some people do respond well to post-operative treatment, but again, a great deal depends on the state of the whole system. If a chronic problem sits atop a history of other chronic health problems then the potential for recovery may be less. The strength of Chinese medicine, though, is that it looks at the person as a whole, and tries to make sense of why this person has these particular problems.

This is why we most frequently advise people to visit a BAcC member local to them for advice on what may be possible given their own unique balance. There may be aspects of the presentation which will inform a practitioner about the likelihood of successful treatment, and most members are happy to give up a little time without charge to make this assessment. Our postcode search facility on the home page will show you the practitioners working closest to where you live or work. 


Q:  Please can you suggest the best type of acupuncture for vestibular migraine? I have no headache but daily vertigo/dizziness symptoms.

A:  Acupuncture has a surprisingly good record with treating the different varieties of vertigo/dizziness/Menieres kinds of problems, as our factsheet on vertigo shows:

The evidence is not quite robust enough for us to be able to make claims for success, but this is more a reflection of the type of evidence sought, by which acupuncture treatment is not, in our view, appropriately tested. We treat many people with these types of problem, and we have to presume that the fact we keep getting referrals indicates that we must be doing some good.

We think we are probably helped by the fact that there are some clearly defined functional elements as defined within Chinese medicine which are responsible for the sense of balance in the body, and this makes tracking the pathways of imbalances a great deal easier. This means that there are some short term treatments which one can apply in a slightly less holistic way to bring things under control while spending time on the underlying patterns of imbalance from which the balance problems usually emerge as a secondary phenomenon. You have probably read that twenty people presenting with the same  symptom might be treated in twenty different ways because each has a unique balance which needs to be adjusted. This holds true, but doesn't preclude direct help to one of the secondary manifestations if we need to help someone as best we can.

You ask about types of acupuncture, and we have to be honest and say that within traditional acupuncture any of the systems will be equally effective in addressing your problems. Seen from the perspective of balancing the system as a whole, there have been dozens of variations on the basic themes in the 2500 year history of the tradition, and all are equally valid ways of elaborating the core concepts. We would be less optimistic about modern traditions, as you could imagine from what we have already said. Treating the symptom as the source of the problem will obviously work in cases where there is nothing else out of kilter, but our experience is that there usually is, and just using formula treatments for problems often leads to short term gain followed by a return to the status quo.

We have checked our database by using the online search facility and have found a number of people working very close to where you live. The postcode facility is even more precise, so we have no doubt that you will be able to find a well trained and qualified practitioner near to where you live. Most offer a facility of dropping in for a chat before committing to treatment, and this might be a good route to pursue, giving you a chance to meet them and see where they work.

Q:  Three years ago my wife suffered a severe cranial infarction which has left her totally incapacitated on her right side permanently bed ridden and doubly incontinent. She is well cared for in a nursing home and is fortunately left handed. There is no prospect of any sort of recovery, but she is troubled by very severe pains which she agrees are of a cramp like nature in her right lower arm and elbow area. These come and go and leave her in agony for hours each day and seriously depressed. Is there any possibility that acupuncture techniques might reduce or remove these sudden bouts of pain?re sorry to hear of your wife's continuing problems.

A:  We are always a little careful when we answer questions based on possibility. Everything is possible. Every treatment works for someone but this falls a long way short of some treatment working for everyone. We have produced a fairly hefty review paper

which details the many studies of post stroke/CVA treatment. In China acupuncture has a much more central place in the treatment of stroke/CVA, especially immediately after the event. Treatment often commences the day of the event itself, and the aim is to restore the proper flow of energy as soon as possible. It is also used quite frequently in this context as well, getting rid of a residual symptom which either does not leave after the stroke or emerges as a consequence of the change of use associated with the problem.

As you probably know from your researched so far traditional acupuncture is based on theories of energy, called qi, and its flow and balance in the body. Pain only arises where the flow is blocked or where it is seriously deficient or in excess, and the needles are used to restore balance. In order to get a really good idea of what may be possible for your wife's problem you will need someone to take a look and make a face to face assessment. At this remove all that we could say is that it is not untypical of the sorts of problems we have addressed, and sometimes very effectively, but we are reluctant to say 'go ahead' because there may be aspects of your wife's condition which a practitioner would see immediately were likely to cause difficulties beyond the scope of acupuncture.

Hopefully your wife's nursing home is near enough to a BAcC member that they could easily pop in and give you a better sense of what is possible. Home visits are not the most popular option for some members because many are reluctant to charge for the additional time it takes to arrive and set up, but there are still enough who do to encourage us that this is a reasonable possibility.

A:  As far as we can tell these refer to a Certificate in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine awarded by the City College of Acupuncture  and that the practitioner is registered with the British Register of Complementary Practitioners.  This is a register which operates as far as we know under the aegis of the the Institute of Complementary and Natural Medicine.

We are not sure whether the TCM for Traditional Chinese Medicine is a qualifier of the certificate or the section of the BRCP register in which the practitioner is recorded.

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