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If we are talking about straight causation, like an adverse effect from treatment, then the answer is probably not. There are many surveys of adverse events, and colds and flu are not recorded as an adverse effect of treatment. With over 4 million treatments a year in the UK there are bound to be a number of coincidences where a cold or flu virus takes hold at the same time as a treatment but is not directly related to it.

Having said that, there are occasions when treatment can release pathogens which the body has stored but not properly dealt with, and it is just on the margins of possibility that this might have happened. The ancient Chinese saw the symptoms of what we now explain as viruses arising from 'invasions' of pathogenic factors, often expressed as cold, wind or damp. If the body has had such an invasion but the person's constitutional energy has not been strong enough to expel it fully it might take treatment at a later date to 'release' the problem. If this were the case then someone might experience a short and sharp return of symptoms. The effect would be short-lived, though; this is like a ripple on the surface as something leaves rather than a full scale viral attack. Although this can happen, the 'getting worse to get better' effect, it is not that common.

The confounding factor in giving an explanation, however, is that if acupuncture treatment was only a part of what was done in a holistic treatment there may have been other interventions or modalities which could have been responsible for what happened. 

On balance, though, we suspect it was a probably coincidence, and hope that it has not been too troublesome for you.



File under muscle and bone - arm

As you might imagine, we have been asked questions about tennis elbow on a number of occasions and a typical answer has been:

Tennis elbow is one of the more frequent conditions with which people present at our practices.

 The BAcC has a factsheet which outlines some of the research which has been unertaken

 although it would be fair to say that the results are not as clear as for some other conditions for which we prepare factsheets. 

 Our clinical experience is that many people do benefit from having treatment but we are always very careful with conditions like this. If someone has four for five sessions without any apparent benefit we tend to draw a sharp line in the sand and look for alternative options for treatment. If treatment is likely to be successful there is usually some improvement, even if it reverts to being not so good again, and the improvements are incremental, i.e they get a little more pronounced each time. If nothing happens or there is a similar temporary burst of better times each time, then the chances are that acupuncture is not the best option.

 The key thing is to set measurable targets: how far can someone turn the arm without pain or restriction, how much weight can they sensibly bear, and so on. There is often also 'homework' - it is remarkable how many people want to carry on playing golf or windsurfing while they are being treated, and the concept of 'two steps forward, one step back' is difficult to get across sometimes.

 Best advice, as always, is to visit a local BAcC member for an informal assessment of what may be possible. Most BAcC members are happy to spare a few minutes without charge to see what may be possible, and this way you get to meet the practitioner and see where they work before committing to treatment.

This is still the essence of what we would say now. Further evidence keeps on being generated, as for example in this trial published last year

but the overall weight of evidence is not enough at present to make firm recommendations.

We are not quite sure what to make of your GP's suggestion. Certainly without sight of your problem we are a little in the dark. If there is strong clinical evidence suggesting that surgery is the best option then it would be wise to follow the advice you are being given. Cutting is usually only done as a last resort, and if that is what the scans and X-rays show then acupuncture may not work. However, it can certainly be said that it won't make things worse, and it might well be worth having three or four sessions to see what can be achieved to head off surgery if this is at all possible.



File under general - general

We have to say at the outset that we are not experts in electroacupuncture. Although a significant minority of our members do use EA machines we ourselves only train in traditional acupuncture with manual stimulation, and the kinds of sophisticated instruction in how best to use the machines is not a part of our training. You might find that the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists might be more helpful in that respect because its members more regularly use these machines as an adjunct to their work.

We have looked carefully at the major textbook on electroacupuncture, David Mayor's authoritative volume published a decade ago, and there are no cautions about the use of EA on scar tissue, nor any reports of muscle tearing after EA treatment. We have also conducted a very thorough search of all the databases on adverse events after acupuncture treatment, and there have been no case reports of this kind.

This is not to say that anyone could categorically say that it can't happen; anything is possible and there has to be a first times for any adverse event to happen. However, given the vast extent of the use of EA in China and the Far East we would have expected there to be some mention of any similar adverse events, and there is none.

We are not sure whether your question is an general one or a question based on something which has happened to you. All we can suggest if it is the latter is to go to the professional association to which the practitioner belongs and ask for the matter to be investigate and possibly passed on to their professional insurers if you have suffered any detriment after treatment.

We are sorry that we cannot be more helpful, but as we say, this is not really our field of expertise. 


The use of acupuncture treatment to help after stroke is now becoming more greatly accepted, and as you can see from our review paper There has been considerable interest because in China it is not uncommon for people to begin  a course of acupuncture treatment within hours of a stroke in order to remobilise the energy of the body as quickly as possible.

The paper doesn't make much mention of dysphagia, though, and for that we have had to look at wider evidence sources. The best summary is here

A systematic review is a means of aggregating the results of many different trials and is seen as a very effective way of building up a wider picture than a small trial can offer. The results are encouraging, although as always there is criticism of the design studies and methodological rigour of many of the tests. This is usually to do with the fact that most studies are performed in China and are less concerned with whether acupuncture works - 2500 years of history says it does - than with what works better. We are still held to account for whether it works at all, which requires a very strict and not entirely appropriate trial design.

There was one rather interesting study published in  2016 which looks really encouraging but the technique describes pharyngeal acupuncture, and we doubt that you will find many UK practitioners either trained in this technique or willing to do it. There are also a growing number of practitioners using scalp acupuncture, for which there are two or three main systems, and great claims are made for their success in treating neurological problems, but here the research is very thin. If you can find someone who works with this method near where you live it may be worth having a chat with them.

We always advise prospective patients to visit a BAcC member local to them for a chat. Everyone is unique and different, and with cases like stroke recovery there are so many confounding factors that it is always best to find a way of getting a face to face assessment. There are no magic formulae to apply, but there are often signs which a practitioner can use to assess how well someone is likely to respond. This is invaluable for offering a prognosis.

From a Chinese medicine perspective there are many ways of regarding functional disturbances, and given the general agreement about what causes a stroke in energetic terms it is sometimes possible to track the functional disturbances which flow from this to the problems with swallowing in a way which offers direct treatment possibilities.

We are always cautious, however; the longer a symptom has been in place the more difficult it can be to move, a view shared with conventional medicine in looking at post-stroke recovery. If the problem arises from a head injury rather than an infarct, though, there may be good reasons to believe that acupuncture treatment may be able to help, however long after the injury a person is treated.


We would hesitate to use the word 'normal' but it is not unheard of to experience small bumps and itching where needles have been inserted. By far the most common cause is a slight allergic reaction to one of the metals in the needle itself. The stainless steel from which nearly all needles are made often contains traces of other metals, especially nickel, and many people are surprisingly allergic to this. There are also a great many needles which now have a silicone coating to make them easier to insert, and there are a number of people who are surprisingly allergic to this.

Aside from reaction to specific chemicals or metals, there are a number of people who seem for no reason at all to be highly reactive to needles. This can often be useful diagnostic information from a Chinese medicine point of view, and a practitioner can adjust treatment to a degree to address the issue and also try to minimise the effect.

There is no need to be concerned. These sorts of reaction usually last for no more than 24-48 hours, and have usually subsided by then. There is nothing to worry about as far as infection is concerned. Everyone now uses single use disposable needles which are never re-inserted and come already sterilised. 

The best thing to do is to have a chat with your practitioner and get their advice. If the reaction continues beyond 48 hours then it may be worth seeing your GP to get hold of some antihistamine medication and let them have a look at what is going on, but we think that you are unlikely to need to do this. We sincerely hope not anyway|


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