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Q: I am seeking a bit of advice. I suffer from migraines and acupuncture has been extremely helpful to me which was suggested by my neurologist. I am now 16 weeks pregnant and I am having another episode where I am struggling to function the same as they were 12 months ago. The physiotherapist that treated me with acupuncture previously has refused to treat me this time due to the risks of miscarriage due to where the needles should be placed. Could you advise me if this is the case and that I should avoid for the foreseeable future?

A: The BAcC has been giving advice on its website for years which says:

How can acupuncture help during pregnancy?
Many conditions which routinely crop up during pregnancy would benefit from a natural solution. Acupuncture, when provided by a trained practitioner, can give relief for a range of pregnancy related conditions:

  • Morning sickness
  • High/low blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Tiredness
  • Constipation
  • Tender breasts
  • Migraine and other headaches
  • Back ache
  • Pelvic pain (Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction)
  • Varicose veins

This very much reflects what Debra Betts, one of the leading acupuncture experts in the field of obstetrics says on her own website

The problem usually arises when people use formula acupuncture, that is a kind of 'cookbook' approach where each condition with which someone presents has a specified group of points which a practitioner can use. There are, indeed, a number of points which we avoid during pregnancy because they have a strongly downward and expulsive effect, and it is highly likely that some of these are in the cookbook which the physiotherapist is using.

However the great strength of traditional acupuncture is its self-contained and completely systematic understanding of the system which means that there are many alternative ways of addressing the imbalances in the system which are causing the migraines. This may mean that you have to seek treatment with another acupuncture practitioner, but we have always taken the view that in the hands of a properly qualified and trained practitioner there should be no risks at all in treating migraines and many other conditions during pregnancy.

There are an increasing number of BAcC members who now take specialist postgraduate training in obstetrics, and in the foreseeable future we expert to recognise them as 'expert practitioners.' When this happens we will be able to offer a list of possibilities, but for now you will find that using google and searching under 'acupuncture and pregnancy' alongside your area will generate a number of hits of our members with specialist training. These may be the best bet, because they will probably have a more in depth understanding of the energetics of pregnancy.

We mean no disrespect to the physio, by the way, but because the majority of their work is western medical acupuncture and within their scope of practice it is not surprising that they are cautious when taking on more specialist areas of practice, and for that your practitioner should be commended.

We wish you a peaceful and stress-free pregnancy, and hope that treatment brings you the relief you need. We also hope that if you do see a BAcC member with specialist training they can perhaps help you with some of the later stages of the pregnancy.

Q: Doed obtaining the Chiway swiss Diploma in Acupuncture and Tuina entitle one to be registered in the Uk as a licensed acupuncturist?

A: The first and most important thing to say is that in the absence of statutory regulation in the UK there is no single registration process for someone to become a licensed acupuncturist. Under what is termed common law, anyone can set up practice without any restriction. The only legal requirements are those which involve registration with local authorities under a number of different byelaws which regulate skin piercing activities. These mainly concern the standards of hygiene and waste disposal in a practice, but in recent years there has been an increase in interest in the standards of training which people who are trying to register have. We have heard stories of people with very short training courses behind them, perhaps a two weekend course, being refused registration. However, the majority of courses of this nature are provided for medical health professionals like doctors and physios who are usually exempt from registration anyway, so in practice there are very few people trying to become licensed as traditional acupuncturists on the basis of rudimentary training.

The majority of UK practitioners belong to one of a number of different acupuncture associations, membership of some of them giving people exemption from licensing in the Greater London area. Most have clearly identified and published entry standards, and it would really be a matter of whether your training from Switzerland met the minimum criteria for membership. None of the associations of which we are aware has any reciprocal recognition of qualifications, so we suspect that you would have to make an individual application and be interviewed about the extent of your training. We have looked at the website of the school which provided your training, and on the surface it looks fairly comprehensive, but we have seen similar programmes for course which lasted a couple of weeks, so without a course transcript detailing hours of training it would be difficult to say how easy it would be to register in the UK.

Our own standards and entry process are to be found here:

where our Admissions process is described, and a broader outline of training standards can be found on the website of our sister organisation, the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board here:

The documentation here outlines the degree level training which accredited courses have and which lead to automatic eligibility to join the BAcC. All other applicants are interviewed and assessed individually.

Q: I had an embryo transfer today and had acupuncture after the lady used a heat lamp on my abdomen after reading up I am worried as it says don't heat stomach.


We are sorry to hear that you are concerned about this on a day when you are probably incredibly concerned about what is happening anyway.

You have probably found websites about heat lamps which say something like:

We recommend that the lamp is not used in cases of fever, diabetes, peripheral vascular conditions, or serious arteriosclerosis. All of these conditions are contraindicated where the application of heat treatment is concerned. In the cases of diabetes (I & II) and peripheral vascular conditions, the specific reason is that the individual may experience lack of sensitivity and/or numbness in certain areas which could in turn lead to possible burning of the skin should the lamp be placed too close to the body. Not suitable for pregnant women. Patients with hypertension must avoid treatment of the head. Patients who wear a pacemaker should avoid treatment of the chest. If using the lamps around the head or face, ensure that the eyes are protected.

and this indeed is the information which we tend to use with members asking about safety. One of our members, Zita West, who writes extensively about this aspect of fertility treatment sets out some very straightforward guidelines here:

However, if your practitioner is properly trained and qualified, and we assume that she is, then we suspect that there are probably energetic reasons for applying heat to the lower abdomen to maximise the chance of a successful implantation. Many cases of problem fertility have a root, in part at least, in coldness in the lower abdomen, and if the practitioner believes that this is the case it would not be surprising if this were to be added to the treatment.. This would be more a matter of enhancing the chances of implantation after transfer rather than interfering with an existing pregnancy.

The simplest solution in cases like this, though, is always to ask the practitioner herself why she used the lamp, and whether it is safe. A responsible and trained practitioner will invariably be more than happy to explain what they do and explain too the safety of nearly all acupuncture procedures. A part of our work is to be available to patients before, during and after treatment to set their minds at rest about what we do. We use acupuncture every day, so it is not an exceptional thing for us, and we have to remember all the time how unusual and a little weird it is still perceived to be by many people.

If the answer you get is unsatisfactory, or even if it is and you still don't feel comfortable with heat being used, then simply ask that this is not done again. We doubt that what you have had done already could have done any harm, and it may be quite the reverse.  However, it is very important at this time that you feel as relaxed and confident as possible, so if this is likely to be a source of concern, then ask the practitioner not to do it again.

We wish you well, and hope that the transfer has been successful.

Q: My meibomiem glands are blocked causing swelling below my eye. Can acupuncture unblock these?

A: If you search the internet for problems with the meibomian glands and the use of acupuncture you will come across the occasional study like this one

which is cited quite frequently in the treatment of dry eye syndrome. There are a couple of others of a similar nature, but the main concern is with a functional disturbance in the work of the glands as a contributor to the symptom rather than a straightforward blockage.

Of course, when you talk to acupuncture practitioners about blockages they tend to light up. Our work, after all is based on an understanding of the body as a complex flow of energies, and using needles to unblock areas which have become stuck is very much a part of what we do. When someone reports an area of the body where things have become 'stuck' we always feel that the use of needles may well help to unstick them.

However, we are always looking at the person as a whole, not simply the symptoms which they have, and an important concern is that the symptoms is not the tip of a much larger iceberg. Although symptoms like yours tend to be local rather than systemic, there are times when a general change in the character or viscosity of body fluids can cause accumulations in areas where the physical conduits or channels are narrow, and an experienced practitioner will want to understand your local symptom in its wider context before giving you a prognosis.

The best advice that we can give is that you visit a local BAcC member and let them have a look at the problem face to face. This will give them a much better idea of what may be possible than we can offer at a distance. The one caveat with problems like this, though, is that people can sometimes carry on with treatment far longer than the results justify. If it is a simple and local blockage there should be changes within a session or two. If there aren't then it is worth drawing a line very quickly before committing large sums of money getting nowhere, unless the practitioner is absolutely sure that there is a wider pattern which underlies and sustains the symptom.

Q: Can acupuncture help anosmia?

A: We have been asked this question a number of times, and our answer has always been:

Google is a massively powerful search facility, and if you google 'acupuncture anosmia' it looks as though there are a number of studies which give cause for hope. If you look carefully, however, you will see that there is but one study which is frequently quoted, generating a number of secondary references. This study, what we call an n=1 case study because it is the report of a single case, is important because it suggests that there may be something worth looking at in the use of acupuncture treatment. The weakness of n=1 studies, of course, is that they are not designed to test acupuncture, and the positive outcome could have arisen for any number of reasons, especially since the case study can provide no evidence for the sudden onset of the problem.

That is not to say that acupuncture treatment is not worth trying. The use of Traditional Chinese medicine involves a great deal of questioning and examination to determine the state and flow of the energies of the body, called 'qi', and the state of the organs which are responsible for all of the functional aspects of the body. Even where there is no obvious cause from a conventional medical point of view, it is rare for a symptom to stand alone in Chinese medicine other than where it derives from a blockage. In this case, if the blockage is removed, the function is restored. We strongly suspect that this is what happened in the case study, and blockages of this kind can sometimes occur for no obvious reason.

Generally speaking, though, a pattern of disharmony will generate a number of symptoms or changes in function, not all of which are clinically significant from a conventional perspective, and these may point t specific imbalances affecting Organic function. Note that we capitalise the word 'Organ' - what we understand by this in Chinese medicine is a great deal more than a physical unit in the body. The Chinese understanding of an Organ embraced functions on all levels, body mind and spirit, and when practised properly Chinese medicine can legitimately claim to be holistic.

The best advice we can give is that you visit a BAcC member local to you for advice on whether they think that acupuncture treatment may be of benefit, and to discuss briefly with you the other aspects of your health which may indicate wider patterns which in turn may link to your problem. That is not to say that there may not be as simple a treatment as the one described in the paper, and one of the points used has the Chinese name 'Welcome Fragrance' suggesting that it may have a direct bearing on the sense of smell. You would certainly not do any harm. However, we would be more likely to look at this as a functional disturbance and be looking at other factors in the system which might point to a treatable pattern.

There is not much more that we can say than this.  We have re-checked the research databases, and there has been nothing new to report. However, we have come across a couple of anecdotal accounts from colleagues, so we would not say that treatment definitely could not help, but that it would be unusual if it did.

Of course, a great deal does depend on the reasons why the condition may have developed, which is why we would always recommending talking to someone face to face. This may offer useful clues which could increase the chances of some improvement if the causes were more physical than neurological.

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