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5 questions

Q:I have just had my fist session of acupuncture for an ongoing lower back condition ( slipped disk ) - she inserted 7 needles into my back, thigh, knee and ankle. Immediately after I felt ok, but 2 days on I have been suffering with dizziness, worse pain in my back than before the session and I have diarrhea - is this normal?

A: 'Normal' is a word which we hesitate to use in these situations because it implies that this happens all the time, but it's fair to say that with all patients with lower back problems we do tend to advise them that pain and stiffness may be a little greater for the next couple of days. We are not alone in doing this; osteopaths and chiropractors routinely offer the same advice.

 What we usually tell people is that if someone has been out of shape for a long while there is often a great deal of re-adjustment to be done. We work on function rather than structure, but once muscles start to work properly some are going to relax and others to be forced to stretch, and inevitably this is going to become a bit of an issue. This should subside in a couple of days, but if it doesn't it's probably worth contacting your practitioner to ask their advice.

 The lightheadedness may be a part of the same pattern. Energy flows will be changing, and this may lead to a few ripples in the system. However, the diarrhoea is less likely to be an outcome of treatment. We have colleagues who might claim that this was the body purging itself of toxins, and if your overall history is complex and there are a number of background problems now or in the past then it is just possible that there may be a connection. We suspect, though, that taken in conjunction with the lightheaded feeling you may have a bug which has simply happened to coincide with the treatment rather than being caused by it. Here again, if it last longer than a couple of days more you might want to seek advice.

 In general, though, the best person to ask is always the practitioner looking after you. Some may get a little defensive, as is only natural, but the majority will be only too happy to reassure you and to interpret what is happening in the context of your unique case history which they will have gone through in detail on your first session.

Q:  I had three acupuncture treatments for help with the withdrawal symptoms of klonopin, a benzodiazepine drug. It worked great. It did away with the anxiety, depression, insomnia and general sickness I was feeling. I had a bad experience on the 4th visit. The acupuncturist hit the nerve in my neck when he inserted the needle into the gall bladder 20 spot. Needless to say, I had a terrible pain and feeling up the side of my face until he took the needle out. I got acupuncture after that, without using the gall bladder 20 spot, but it didn't work well. It seemed that the gall bladder 20 spot really helped me. I was afraid to have that spot worked on so I stopped getting acupuncture for a long time due to this. I had gotten down to a lower dose of klonopin due to my first three acupuncture treatments, but never got off of the medication completely due to stopping the acupuncture treatments. The withdrawal symptoms were too much to bear without the acupuncture. I recently decided to try it again with a different acupucturist. She used tiny little needles on what looked like bandaids on the gall bladder 20 spot. I noticed that when she treated the gallbladder 20 spot I got blurry vision. I remember that during the three previous treatments years ago I also got blurry vision when those spots were used. When I had acupuncture without using that spot, I didn't have blurry vision. I told the new acupuncturist about this, and she said that it wasn't normal to have blurry vision and that she wouldn[t want to use the gall bladder 20 spot on me again. So I don't understand why the gall bladder 20 spot seems to be the only spot that works well for my withdrawal symptoms, yet at the same time it causes a reaction that the acupuncturist doesn't like and doesn't want to use. I don't know what to think. What is your advice?

A:  It would seem a terrible shame if the acupuncture point which really did the trick for you also gave you a symptom as a side effect which made you feel uneasy about it being needled.

The first question we would want to ask is about the blurry vision. Blurry can mean any number of things, and we would want to get a great deal more information about exactly what you 'saw', how long the effect lasted, whether there were any secondary side effects on a par with the nerve sensation but not quite at the same level of discomfort, and whether the effect started to go as soon as the needle was withdrawn. This would give us a slightly better idea of what to say, but also give us the raw material for advice. If, for example, the side effect, while a little odd and perhaps even disconcerting, disappears quite quickly and has no longer term implications we would be able to weigh up whether a small amount of disruption was far outbalanced by a larger gain in terms of the withdrawal programme. We have certainly seen patients with odd reactions to needles who have used this kind of 'balance sheet' approach to treatment.

On a straightforward physiological level, from a conventional medicine perspective, this sounds a little like a migrainous aura. This can generate this type of symptom, even though the subsequent headache never kicks in. There is a great deal going on in the area around GB 20, with several major nerves and arteries in the area, and it is possible that needling into the muscle is causing enough change to allow something  to impinge a nerve or artery and trigger your symptom. This need not be related to the strength of treatment; a great deal of Japanese style treatment can be almost imperceptible but have just as profound an effect as someone really working the needle hard.

On an energetic level from a Chinese medicine perspective the Gall Bladder as an Organ (capitalised because we are talking about something different from an organ as understood in the West) has a strong functional connection with the faculty of vision. Since the Gall Bladder is paired with the Liver, and both will be heavily implicated in drug withdrawal, there may well be something happening which is either about release of blockage or even the uncovering of blockage. It is quite common for people using acupuncture for drug withdrawal to have a number of good weeks followed by what appears to be a deluge of unpleasant symptoms. We tend to view this as the toxins working their way out, although we have to be careful not to misrecognise something actually going wrong as a good effect of treatment.

Armed with further information we might discuss with you whether the disruption was bearable enough and short lived enough to bear for the sake of the benefits of the treatment. We would almost certainly refer you to your GP to get this checked, though; it is unusual, and anything unusual which has such a clear pattern of cause and effect should be investigated. After that we would explore which other points had the same functional effects and use them as substitutes. We do find some patients for one point above all others seems to do the trick, in defiance of all of our received wisdom about dynamic and evolutionary treatment patterns, but invariably other points will also help, usually just a little more slowly.

It is always worthwhile talking this through at length with your practitioner, and also exploring with her when acupressure is used instead. Does it have the same effect, both good and bad? Sometimes it can be simply a matter of the system being a little too unstable to use what is considered a very powerful point. We have often used acupressure or moxibustion in cases like this to prepare the ground in a more gentle fashion.

We hope that you are able to find a way to continue your progress.  


Q:  I have overactive bladder syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome and eczema. Can all three be treated with acupuncture at the same time?

A:  The great strength of Chinese medicine is precisely that it takes into account all of the symptoms from which a patient might suffer and aims to interpret them within a diagnostic framework which can make sense of them, both in terms of their chronology, how they developed in relation to each other over time, and also their inter-relationships as patterns of disharmony which point to functional disturbances in the Organs as they are understood from a Chinese perspective.
The functional nature of Organs, much wider concept than that applied by western medicine, can mean that seemingly disparate symptoms can be traced back to the same part of the system which is not working well. In the west your symptoms will get you referrals to three different specialists or consultants. In the East the Chinese medicine practitioners were always generalists, aiming to understand the whole complex picture which was unique to every different patient. Ironically the specialist in ancient China was looked down on as someone who was limited and inferior!
When someone asks, 'can Chinese medicine treat x, y and z?', the best answer is that Chinese medicine treats the person in whom x, y and z manifest, and tries to make sense of the unique presentation. Obviously the modern patient wants to hear about x, y and z, and we always make sure that what research exists is put before people. Even though the treatments used in research are often sub-optimal, there are generally encouraging results, if short of being conclusive in most cases. However, the true value of Chinese medicine is the fact that each person will receive treatment appropriate to their specific patterns, and this means that x, y and z will always be taken into account together, and hopefully that treatment of the person will generate improvements across the board.    

Q. I have a gential rash, apparantly an immune reaction to a cycle racing crash. I also have low abdominal pain and pain through my urethra, although passing urine is surpisingly OK. Minor injuries are not healing as well as normal. I am 53 and extremely fit.

I believe that my immune system is seriously disrupted due to the crash.

Can acupunture restore the immune system balance, ie not just relieve the symptoms?



A. There is no doubt that the aim of traditional acupuncture is to restore balance to the whole system, not simply to remove symptoms. The practitioner will aim not only to get someone better but to keep them better. This is one of the many reasons why the BAcC is so adamant in arguing that extremely short courses in acupuncture are not fit for purpose; if someone has treatment aimed only at removing a symptom, the chances are the symptom will return and they will conclude that acupucture didn't work, when all they have established is that symptomatic acupuncture didn't work.


In your case, there are features of your symptoms as a group which may make sense from a Chinese medicine perspective. There is every likelihood that the physical shock of an accident could cause a lowering of the body's immune system as a whole, but there may well be more specific injuries which may fall within the scope of practice of Chinese medicine. One of its great strengths, aside from treating the person as opposed to the disease, is that it has an entirely different take on the pathology and physiology of the body, and can sometimes make sense of a seemingly unconnected symptoms within one recognised diagnostic pattern. It may well be that a local blockage or disruption caused by the accident is impacting on the overall balance, rather than the accident itself affecting the immune system.


It would be best to seek advice from a BAcC member local to you, and to ask if they feel that they can do something for your specific symptoms. Most practitioners are willing to give up a little time without charge to assess whether acupuncture is appropriate for potential patients before committing them to treatment.

The holistic approach to healthcare could be said to take a different approach to "conventional" medicine. Most conventional medicine treatments are aimed at a specific symptom or ailment, such as a bad back or a a cold. A holistic practitioner would attempt to work on the underlying causes of these symptoms, in an attempt to stop the symptom recurring.


In the video below, BAcC member Eric Goodchild explains further...


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