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Q. I have inner ear canal paresis of around 29% in my right ear and a preponderence ti the left of 27%. I have had some accupuncture treatment but was not sure my condition is treatable by accupuncture and the accupuncturist was rather young. Do you have an accuopuncturist in specializes in treating inner ear canal paresis? on your books?


A. The BAcC does not as yet recognise specialisms, although it is looking closely at how best to describe with groups practitioners who focus the majority of their work on one group, like children or pregnant women. Even where this is the case, the skills in Chinese medicine remain largely the same; it is often the additional conventional medical knowledge which defines expert practice. In theory any member of the BAcC is competent to treat people equally competently according to traditional chinese medicine principles. Clearly someone with many years of experience may have seen similar cases which could guide their thinking, but there are no practitioners of whom we are aware who focus on problems in the inner ear.



There is very little research evidence for the treatment of canal paresis with acupuncture. However, Chinese medicine operates in a way which it is difficult to put to the test in trials. Each patient is treated according to their unique and specific patterns, and the underlying premise, that if the energies of the body are in balance symptoms will resolve, means that in individual cases there can occasionally be profound changes to symptoms which have not responded to conventional treatment.


It would be fair to say, though, that even with the prevalence of people blogging their stories on the internet there are very few accounts of acupuncture having a great deal of effect on this problem, and we would hope that anyone offering treatment for this as a primary presentation is reviewing progress on a regular basis and not creating expectations which cannot be realised.

Q. I have had Crohn's disease for 23 years. I have managed this without drugs for the last 14 years (diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle) however the Doctors convinced me to start an immunosupressant drug about 6 months ago as they said the disease activity was very severe (even though I experience few, and only mild, symptoms). The drug does not seem to have worked and the doctors are suggesting I add another immunosupressant drug to this. I am really keen to prevent this so am looking for alternative treatments. I am aware that there is a body of research supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of Crohn's and was hoping you would be able to recommend somebody who has a knowledge/experience of this?


A. The use of acupuncture and moxibustion for the treatment of Crohn's Disease and related conditions such as ulcerative colitis has a long history in China. There are many studies which seek to establish what treatments are more effective, but most presume that acupuncture already works and are not accepted in the west because of methodological weakness. You will find individual studies which show some positive outcomes, such as


and a much quoted systematic review which is highly encouraging


but it would be a bit of a stretch to call this a 'body of evidence.'


There is always an element of concern in our advice when someone has a potentially serious condition which is being treated with conventional medication. If the markers for your illness are quite serious, in spite of the relative absence of symptoms, and serious enough for your doctors and consultants to want to try a second immunosuppressive drug, it would be irresponsible of us to recommend that you try to use acupuncture instead of this. Our advice would always be to use acupuncture treatment alongside conventional medicine for cases such as yours, and if and only if the markers reduce, then discuss with your consultant the possibility for reducing the prescribed medicines.


As far as our members are concerned, all are equally equipped to use Chinese medicine for the most frequent presentations in clinic; indeed, the generalist physician was honoured in ancient China above the specialist physician who was seen to be limited. There are one or two areas where members focus their work on specific groups of patients, like children or pregnant women, and they often take on board some additional conventional medical material to help them to work better with their patients. The entry level acupuncture skills are the same for all members, however, and experience usually means learning how to use the basic knowledge better, not learning more new knowledge. Any BAcC member located near you should be able to provide you with safe and competent treatment.


Adverse events arising from acupuncture treatment are quite rare. Safety surveys published in the BMJ a few years ago showed a likelihood of less than 1 in 10,000 of an adverse reaction to treatment. However, that does not mean they never happen.



In the first instance you should go back to the practitioner whom you are seeing to let them take a look at the problem. If the practitioner is a BAcC member he or she will be sufficiently trained in western medicine to recognise whether this is a temporary transient reaction or one which requires referral to a doctor. It will be useful to establish whether the part of the body where the inflamed spots are was in contact with any soaps, creams or lotions which might have penetrated the skin barrier. Since all the needles used by BAcC members are pre-sterilised, used once and then disposed of, the only way that a puncture point could become infected or inflamed would be from the needle carrying something from the skin surface into the dermis, or the puncture points not 'sealing' immediately after the treatment and something on the skin surface passing the outer payer of defence.


As a general point inflammation does not necessarily mean infection, and there are a small percentage of patients whose skin can react to needles in this way. This reaction is more often than not transient.

Q. I have had an on going hip and leg problem since the summer. I am now seeing a local physiotherapist who on my last visit suggested acupuncture, as the needle first went in to my buttock my leg went numb for a second or so, I just wondered if this is a normal response or should I avoid acupuncture with him in the future?


A. People can experience a range of sensations when they are needled. People frequently describe a dull, aching numbness where the needle has been inserted, and in China this is seen as a necessary component of successful treatment. Other patients report a mild tingling sensation.



The sensation is most often local to where the needle was inserted. In some cases people can report that the sensation 'travels', and the pathway usually follows the channels or meridians which are described in Chinese medicine for the flow of energy. Some Chinese practitioners use a quite vigorous form of needling to create this effect in what they term 'propagated needle sensation', often used to treat a problem from a distance and often where someone wants to help an affected limb.


It is possible, therefore, that your physiotherapist has, consciously or not, achieved this sensation in using needles which, if they are being inserted in the buttock, are likely to be longer and more substantial than the needles that practitioners customarily use. The other possibility is that the needles have been used at a depth which has got close to the sciatic nerve, and the sensation arises from the proximity to the nerve. It won't have been a direct hit on the nerve, which you would have experienced as an electric shock.


The important point is that the reaction lasted only a second or two. Unusual as it is, this may still be worth putting up with if the improvements you get from the acupuncture outweigh this slight disbenefit. If, however, you find this disconcerting, you can simply ask the physio not to use needles again.

Q. My 28year old daughter has been off work for 1 year with debilitating abdominal pain, after the usual investigations it has been found that she has adhesionsin in her abdoman (although the doctors have not confirmed that this is the cause of her pain). With the exasperating out-look of trial & error pain killers for the next indefinate period whould acupucture be of help?


A. The doctor's caution in not concluding that the adhesions are causing the pain is justified; although adhesions can cause considerable pain in the lower abdomen they are by no means the only cause of chronic pain. Many people, for example, suffer from forms of irritable bowel syndrome with similar symptoms but without any obvious physical evidence like adhesions to identify as a possible cause.



The strength of Chinese medicine is that many of its diagnostic systems draw directly on the patient's description of the exact type, nature and location of the pain which they are experiencing, and can make sense of this in relation to the various functions in the lower abdomen and the patterns of flow of energy in the area. This can often provide treatment strategies which aim to relieve the pain by moving energy where it is blocked or in excess.


The best course of action would be for your daughter to visit a BAcC member local to where she lives to see whether they think that her problem is one which they consider might be helped by treatment. Chinese medicine treats the person, not the illness or disease, which is why it is always difficult to say 'acupuncture treats x' with absolute certainty; in some cases a practitioner might conclude that there are other more appropriate therapies to deal with a person's specific problem. However, people with ill-defined chronic abdominal pains often turn to acupuncture, and anecdotally there are frequent reports of a lessening of the frequency and severity of the condition. At this point, however, the research evidence is a little thin on the ground, but that is as much to do with the fact that running trials for conditions without precise definition is very difficult.


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