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Severe pain when the needles go in should acupuncture treatment continue?

Q:I have had three session and I think things are improving but I cannot bare the needle at the colon 4 point. The depth of the ache when it goes in is dreadful and my anxiety levels increase. The practitioner says he has never known someone with such sensitivity. I suffer with a degree of anxiety and depression, maybe this has something to do with it. Should I continue with the acupuncture?

A:  If you feel that things are improving they probably are. A wise practitioner once said to us that in order for change to be noticeable it has to be quite considerable, so this sounds encouraging. The important point to stress is that in the treatment room you have a greater degree of control than perhaps you realise. Treatment can only happen with your consent, and if you don't like a particular point, then you can simply ask the practitioner not to use it. This expert used to tell his practitioner not to needle a point on the base of the foot.

The wonderful thing about traditional acupuncture is that we are treating the person, not simply the problem, so there are no exact prescriptions for treating specific conditions. The fact that we are treating the whole system means that we are able to address systemic problems in several ways. Sometimes we have no choice. If someone has had cancerous lymph nodes removed we aren't allowed to needle the limb below the affected area, so that means we have to be creative in how we work, and one of our colleagues, Beverley de Valois, has undertaken some fascinating research to show that you can achieve just as good results from elsewhere on the body.

Even when it comes to using the same points, it is possible to make life a great deal easier for the patient. A point can be needled to less depth, manipulated less vigorously or even needled with a finer needle, all of which can greatly reduce the impact. The dull aching feeling, called 'deqi' in traditional acupuncture, is believed to be a requisite in mainstream Chinese styles but completely avoided in many Japanese styles. A practitioner usually has the versatility to suit the needs of the patient.

The best advice we can give is that you discuss this with your practitioner and ask them what they can do to take away the anxiety you are feeling. Our advice if they say that they can't is to decide whether the short term nature of the discomfort is offset by the gains. If the discomfort is going to stop you having a treatment that works, then you'd be better off finding someone who worked in a way you could get on with. We strongly suspect, though, that your current practitioner will find a way around the problem.

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