Q: I have had complicated hand surgery which has left my hand very tender and easily hurt. I would be very reluctant to have needles in my hand because I think this would be very painful. Is it still possible for me to have effective acupuncture avoiding the hand? My most obvious problem is catarrh and chest problems.
A: Many people are worried about acupuncture needles without really having come across them. The majority of needles in use are about 0.18mm to 0.25mm in diameter, which is finer than the average sewing needle, but the crucial factor is that they are solid. Most people have experiences of hyopdermics which, being hollow, are a great deal more uncomfortable when they break the skin. Solid needles cause less discomfort, and this is further reduced when they are inserted by the use of a guide tube which is positioned on the skin and the needle gently tapped in. The 'distraction' caused by the pressure of the tube makes the needle insertion less palpable.
However, there are prospective patients like yourself who have good reason to be fearful of needles, however small the impact might be, and there are a number of ways of getting around this. Most points on the body are bilateral and although traditional use says that the left side is for tonifying energy and the right side for reducing energy, in practice they are interchangeable, and it is the needle action and direction which determines what effect is achieved. There is, then, nothing that a practitioner may want to do that will be ruled out by having no access to the left hand.
Indeed, even if both your hands were sensitive, there are ways around the problem by using points elsewhere on the body which have a direct connection with the channels and organs you are trying to influence. This is very much the case with post-mastectomy patients where we cannot needle the arms and hands below where lymph nodes have been stripped out in the armpit. Where someone's constitution would normally require the use of needles on the arm, we have to use our knowledge and skill to generate the same effects by the use of leg and body points.
The bottom line is that there is nothing which would impair the quality and effect of treatment by protecting your hand. You may even find, though, when you have needles inserted elsewhere that you might be able to tolerate needles in the left hand. It may also be worth discussing with a practitioner what might be done to render the area more benign. We occasionally treat amputees who have a continuing neuropathy from the severed nerves, and we are quite often able to turn the volume down.
As far as chest problems and catarrh are concerned, there are many clearly defined patterns recognised in Chinese medicine for the treatment of problems like this, and it may well offer a solution. However, the strength of Chinese medicine lies in the fact that it treats each patient as a unique combination of energy, with the same symptom often being treated differently from person to person, so the only sensible advice we can offer is to visit a BAcC member local to you to discuss whether they might be able to help.