Ask an expert - general - dizziness

5 questions

Q:  I tripped over a step over 18 months ago and hit my head. I have totally lost my balance. I have had MRI scan and cat scan.  I have been told there is nothing else they can do for me. It is not vertigo and when I am out in the dark I have to have someone with me as I stumble all over the place. I am trying a Cranial osteopath but that is doing no good. Do you think acupuncture will help get my balance back.

A:  This is a very difficult question to answer. The fact that there is no visible damage and that cranial osteopathy has had no effect are not very encouraging when trying to say whether acupuncture might help. The latter (cranial osteopathy) works in broadly similar ways, and if that is doing nothing it does not bode well.

 However, on a more positive note, we get many referrals from cranial osteopaths when patients do not respond, and on many occasions we are able to help. From a Chinese medicine perspective we are looking at functional relationships within the body, not structural ones. Our basic premise is that there is a flow of energy in the body, which we call 'qi', whose flow, rhythm and balance determines the way in which all of the functions of the body perform as they should. Our skills are to identify weaknesses and blockages in the flow which cause pathological and functional changes, and to use needles to correct them.

 Of course, it sounds a great deal simpler when put this way than it actually is, and there is a considerable skill in identifying exactly what is causing a problem. This may not always be where or how the presenting condition appears to be, and can sometimes lie elsewhere. There may have been local disruptions to what we regard as normal flow in the damage you sustained which remain even though the body appears to have healed, and there may have been other mental and emotional consequences of what happened to you which have caused a problem 'downstream', as it were. These could just as easily result in a functional disturbance like loss of balance.

 The best advice we can give for unique problems such as yours is that you visit a local BAcC member for an informal chat about what may be possible. Most are very happy to give up a short amount of time without charge to assess whether acupuncture treatment is a good option, and this also has the advantage that you can meet someone and see where they work before committing to treatment.


Q:  I have been diagnosed with Mal de Debarquement disorder with going on 2 1/2 months of balance issues. Have tried physical therapy, chiropractic, and now acupuncture. My acupuncturist has dealt with dizziness, but no one with this disorder. Any advice to share? We have worked on the sinus, ears, etc. 

A:  MdDS is quite a rare condition, although the overlap with a number of better documented problems such as Meniere's Disease or vertigo could mean that it is under-reported. As is always the case with relatively rare conditions there is hardly any research, even in conventional medical literature.

We searched for whatever we could find, and there are certainly a number of anecdotal accounts from people with this condition who have found acupuncture in combination with some fairly low level medications has done the trick. This sample is self-selecting, though; there is less chance that someone who hasn't found it useful will post the bad news.

For problems like this we have to say that the way that Chinese medicine works, interpreting the symptoms against a completely different theoretical framework and supplementing what is reported with findings from, for example, looking at the tongue, taking the pulse at the wrist and other clinical observations, can sometimes generate solutions where conventional medicine cannot. Chinese medicine is based on an understanding of energy, called 'qi', and its flow, rhythm and balance in the body. The flow is affected both functionally by weaknesses in the Organs of the body which sustain it, and also positionally because of local blockage and disturbance. It is probable that a practitioner may find evidence of changes or blockages in the flow, and by re-aligning these start to reduce the symptoms. This is certainly the case with other balance problems, where the evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment, while not conclusive, is certainly encouraging enough to suggest that treatment is worth a try.

The best advice we can give is that you visit a BAcC member local to you and seek a brief face to face assessment. We are confident that in person they will be able to offer a much better view of what may be possible. The only caution we have is that conditions can become more difficult to treat the longer they have been entrenched, and a fifteen year history suggests that improvements may take a while. However, life is full of surprises, and we have seen longstanding problems vanish almost overnight, so the best idea is probably to have no expectations either way.

We have checked the databases to see what else might have been published since we wrote this in 2014, but apart from a 2013 study which uses a form of magnetic therapy

we have not found anything else which would affect what we have said either way.

The only addition we would make to this answer is to mention that there are one or two other forms of treatment, notably cranial osteopathy, which might also offer some relief and improvement. Although the evidence for acupuncture and MdDS is a bit thin, there is a considerable amount of good quality research on vertigo and other balance problems like Menieres and labyrinthitis. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the disease labels of western medicine are less interesting to us than the functional disturbances which a patient reports. We have ways of interpreting these within the conceptual grid of Chinese medicine which makes direct equivalences hard to establish - some presentations with different western names are the same as far as we are concerned, and twenty people with the same named presentation may be treated twenty different ways.

Hopefully a practitioner will find something which makes sense of your problem and can give you a much clearer idea than we can here of the potential for treatment with acupuncture.

As you may be aware, most health professionals are more severely limited in what they can say than ever before by the advertising restrictions which are now in place to protect the consumer/patient. The criterion for being able to name what you can treat, a particular form of research trial most frequently used for testing drugs, doesn't really work well for acupuncture treatment where variables are a part of the work, not something to be reduced to zero. It might seem a little odd, then, that when nausea is one of the conditions which we can mention, and when vertigo is not far from being accepted, as our factsheets show.

Nausea and vomiting factsheet


Vertigo factsheet


that we are not just going to say 'ah yes, you'd be well advised to have treatment.'
One of the main reasons is that Chinese medicine works from an entirely different theoretical basis from western medicine, and the translation from one system to another is very imprecise. In Chinese medicine there are dozens of reasons why someone might experience any of the three symptoms which you mention, but no properly trained practitioner would just treat the nausea without fitting it into the overall context of your health. That is not to say that doctors don't do differential diagnoses to eliminate more serious underlying possibilities, but once they have done the range of treatments is usually fairly small. In Chinese medicine, each person is regarded as unique, and as such the practitioner will want to know the exact details of a wide range of aspects of your health and lifestyle to determine how best to put right what is going on.
We believe that it is very likely that acupuncture treatment is going to be of benefit, but your best option is always going to be to arrange a short visit to a local BAcC member, hopefully without charge, so that he or she can give you a brief face to face assessment of what they think they might be able to achieve. There is no doubt that problems such as yours are high up the tables of conditions for which people seek treatment, but not every case is straightforward, and our members are willing and able to refer on to other forms of treatment if they think that these are more likely to help you, based on what they see.    

Q:  I' m suffering from a concussion, 16 months ago. My problem now is my balance when on my feet. I jerk at things coming at me, like people, like the fridge door, cupboard doors, open/shut of doors even though I'm the one doing the opening. My gait is way off walking with or without assistance and blurred vision also. No pain anywhere.  Can acuputure help in some way.  I'm at my wits end.


A:  There are no research papers covering the exact problems which you are experiencing, and we would have been very surprised if there had been. All that we can sya is that with any accident of this nature there is bound to have been some disruption of the energy flows and balances, as understood by Chinese medicine, and a practitioner would use their skills to determine what these were and try to correct them. Chinese medicine is not confined simply to whole person/systemic problems, and has a long tradition of dealing with physical injury. It is widely believed in Chinese medicine that physical damage to a part of the body will cause local stagnation and blockage, and techniques such as needling, moxibustion and massage can be used effectively to get things moving again.
In cases like yours, however, it would also be well worth considering a visit to your local osteopath, especially if they practise cranial osteopathy. Far from being a sold shell the skull consists of more than twenty smaller bones which allow considerable flexibility and movement along their joint lines. In osteopathic practice any jot or bump to the head can cause serious and longlasting problems unless and until corrected, and simple (and very gentle) manipulations by a skilled practitioner can have a profound effect.
By all means seek advice from a BAcC member local to you, and if they feel that there are identifiable signs of blockage then it would be worthwhile discussing whether treatment would be of benefit. If their view is that a visit to a cranial osteopath would be preferable it is very likely that they will be able to make a personal recommendation.  

Q:  I'm wondering if acupuncture could solve my problem which is centred around vertigo/dizziness/tinnitus. 30+ years. Recently found I have spondilosis in my neck, which has cast a new light on the condition.


A: A great deal depends on the extent of the spondylosis and the extent to which it may be impinging on the nerves in the neck and causing problems. That may limit the prospects for change or improvement. However, the fact that there is a malformation in the neck may not in itself be directly linked to the balance and tinnitus problems you suffer. It is quite common for people with bad backs to have X-rays showing arthritic deterioration of the lower spine and to have a causal connection made between the arthritis and the pain. It may well be, but on the other hand most people over 50 have some arthritis, and it is not a necessary consequence that they have pain, nor that the pain derives directly from the arthritis.
Chinese medicine has an entirely different understanding of human physiology from western medicine, based on the flow of energy, called 'qi', and its balance throughout the body. The organs of the body are understood differently too, not simply physical objects doing a physical job but having a number of functional aspects which manifest in mind body and emotions. A skilled practitioner would want to know exactly what kind of tinnitus, what kind of vertigo and what kind of dizziness and then related these as symptoms to their own readings and observations to determine whether there were functional, rather than structural, reasons why you may have experienced these problems for such a long time.
They may well conclude that it is the physical structure which causes the problem, in which case treatment may be limited to attempting to reduce some of the spasms and inflammation which invariably accompany spondylosis to reduce the secondary effects. They may refer you onward to an osteopath or chiropractor, whose work focuses on structural matters, to see if anything can be done to free the cervical spine. However, they may also be able to offer some reduction in your symptoms if these are related to functional disturbances. There are an increasing number of reviews and studies, a good example of which is
which offer encouragement in the potential for acupuncture in the treatment of a range of balance and ear problems.
Our best advice, however, is to visit a BAcC member local to you to get a more informed face to face assessment of whether treatment may be of benefit for your specific problems. 





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