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384 questions

Q: I am 70 years male living in Manchester.  I am suffering lungs diseases - emphysema and bronchitis for  five years.  It is mild not severe. Please let me know whether  it can be treated with acupuncture.

A: We always choose our words very carefully when we answer questions like yours. The reason lies in the nature of traditional acupuncture and the fact that it treats the person, not the condition. From our perspective our work is aimed at getting the whole system to work as well as it can in the belief that when the underlying balance of the body's energies is as good as it can be this will help to remove or reduce the symptoms which people are experiencing.

 We always tread carefully, though, because when we are asked ' do we treat something?', when we say yes we mean that we treat the person with the something. However, people tend to hear the word 'cure' when someone says 'I treat X', and this can give false expectations about what may be possible.

 In your case, the emphysema and bronchiectasis are unlikely to be reversible, and treatment would be aimed at getting the system to work as well as it can do within these restrictions. We have treated many people over the years with similar levels of impairment, and it has always seemed to help to a degree, even if the change wasn't so much in the actual physical limitations but in the attitude which people had to their problems. It is not unusual for people with lung damage to feel anxious and a little negative, and changing this alone can make a difference.

We would always advise someone to visit a local BAcC member for a brief face to face consultation to see what might be possible. This is always more useful than advice given at a distance, and most of our colleagues would be happy to offer someone a short amount of time without charge to establish whether treatment was a good option.

We also wonder whether some form of limited exercise like tai chi or qi gong might be a useful addition to treatment. These are both exercise routines within Chinese medicine which help to improve the flow of energy, and we have known people to use them to very good effect to supplement the help they get from acupuncture treatment.


A:  There is no reason why someone should not have both styles of treatment at the same time. Many practitioners would argue, in fact, that many of the treatments used in fertility treatment can become a little formulaic, and would aim to supplement them or adapt them for purpose. This is an argument often deployed within the TCM fraternity with treatments like the Paulus Protocol used at the time of embryo transfer in IVF. While it is suitable as it is for the greater majority of people, there are some for whom further refinement would make it far more effective.

As far as Five Element and TCM are concerned, these can often be dovetailed to great effect, and indeed, one of the major teaching institutions, the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, was founded on the basis of integrating these styles for the benefit of the patient. The received wisdom is that it can be compared to treating different levels within the body, and many 5-E practitioners see the use of the more generic treatments as a great way of supporting the patient as a whole while the more targeted work is done and of anchoring the results gained by using TCM. 

 The reality is that it is all one system of medicine in which styles have been identified which draw on common roots. Hence there are people who integrate 5-E, TCM, Japanese Meridian Therapy, Stems and Branches and many other variations, and all to great effect. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2018 14:29

Can acupuncture help an overactive bladder

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Q: I have suffered from an overactive bladder for about 12years. I need to go to the toilet about every hour and every two hours at night. I need to get this problem under control, as I have limited abilities to do as I want. I have had to cancel a holiday as waiting at the airport would have been too stressful not to mention being on the plane and needing the toilet so much. I would value your help as I cannot carry on like this. I am 67 and want to claim my life back if possible. 

A: We have been asked about this on a number of occasions, and a typical answer has been:

As our factsheet shows

there is some evidence to suggest that urgency of urination can be helped by acupuncture, although there is not yet anywhere near enough evidence to make substantive claims here. If you search the internet there are a number of studies such as this one

which offer some hope.

However, we have to remind ourselves sometimes that traditional acupuncture has been dealing with problems like this for over 2000 years, and has a very sophisticated process for understanding patients' symptoms against a backdrop of an entirely different conceptual framework. The understanding of the body as a system of energy, 'qi', in flow and the concepts of yin and yang to describe its flow and inter-relationships is very alien to the western ear. However, the rather wider understanding of organs as functional units with effects on body mind and spirit, and the underlying premise that symptoms are alarm bells, not the problem itself, can sometimes offer possibilities for understanding a problem in a far wider context. This will often be corroborated by other problems which a patient suffers and by diagnostic signs which the practitioner sees, and can often lead to a situation where a practitioner can tell the patient about symptoms that they haven't yet mentioned. If the problem is a part of a recognised syndrome or pattern of symptoms a practitioner will be able to give a clear idea of prognosis. Even if it doesn't the attempt to re-establish balance in the system can also have an effect on individual symptoms.

We recommend that you talk to a BAcC member local to you an ask for their advice in a brief face to face consultation whether they think that they can help you. We trust that they will give you an honest assessment, and refer you on to other modalities of treatment if they felt that these offered a better prospect of success.

We have had another look at the research evidence which has emerged since we wrote this response, and there are two more papers which make encouraging noises

and evidence of a systematic review about to take place. This is a survey of all papers on the subject which is regarded very highly within conventional medicine since it irons out anomalies in smaller samples.

One of our members has studied this problem for several years and given presentations at our research gatherings and conferences, so we are confident that there is something of importance emerging in the use of traditional acupuncture in this field. However, each individual person is different, however similar their symptoms may be, and the strength of Chinese medicine is that treatment is tailored to the unique needs of the patient, not simply offered as a one size fits all option. Visiting a BAcC member local to you would seem to us to be your best option. Here you will get advice for your own unique presentation.  

This is, as you can see, a 'stacked' answer, two together, and when we receive enquiries which we have answered before we often quote them and look at any more recent developments. There is nothing more to add, with the systematic review still being undertaken.

However, there is a treatment which is not really acupuncture as such caller percutaneous posterior tibial nerve stimulation of which we said in reply to someone else

The technique  is called percutaneous posterior tibial nerve stimulation, about which you can read here:

It is not really an acupuncture technique as such, at least it certainly is not a part of the ancient traditional Chinese medicine which we all practise. It is a modern technique using needles as electrodes which, as is often the case in modern developments of acupuncture, is described as working 'by a mechanism which is not yet properly understood.' It may well be that a traditional acupuncturist has decided to add this to their repertoire, but it is not a part of our core training.

This is not something which we would normally offer, but there may be practitioners in your area who do. If all else fails this would be worth a go. Another left field suggestion might be NLP hypnotherapy, a specific form of hypnotherapy of which we have often heard good reports. Where a problem starts to generate itself, i.e. the fear of needing to go can often generate the urge to go, there are a number of ways to try to break the cycle. Western medicine offers one or two drug treatments which suppress the urge to go for a number of hours, but we are not convinced of the safety of using this as a long term strategy. Something like hypnotherapy, which can break the cycle of urge and frequency and give a person some control back, may be an option worth exploring.

Obviously, though, we believe that traditional acupuncture may be well worth a go, and hope that you find some relief from this life-changing situation

Q:  I am 71 years old man.At present I have two lungs problems, emphysema brochieatasis since five years. Before these problems I got tueberculosis which was cured with one year treatment with allopathic medicines..I want to know if my dieases are treatable with acupuncture.

A: We would have to be honest and say that although anything is treatable with traditional acupuncture, in the sense that we aim to restore balance to the body's energies and maximise the performance of the whole system, the more precise use of the word 'treat' meaning have a confident expectation of positive results would not apply. The combination of the TB and the bronchiectasis have probably permanently affected your ability to gather the oxygen you need, and we have never seen any studies which suggest that using acupuncture treatment could improve this exchange or reverse any physical deterioration which has taken place.

Obviously if you search the internet you may well find case studies where someone will claim that they have used acupuncture to great effect, but in general these are usually in cases where the problem is relatively fresh and has not caused too much permanent damage.

That said, one of the consequences of a part of the system being affected is that the imbalances ripple through the whole system, and people can often feel very much under the weather in areas where the problem does not directly sit. Because we believe that body mind and spirit are all interconnected physical problems can often lead to mental or emotional issues like anxiety or worry, and we do often treat people with problems which aren't going to get better to great effect. Many of us have helped to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinsons or MS, and from that perspective it may well be worth considering treatment.

What we invariably recommend is that you visit a practitioner for an informal assessment of what may be possible. The chances of an improvement in what has been lost are very small, so if anyone makes large claims for what they can do you should be careful. A responsible practitioner will always give you an honest answer so that you can make a properly informed choice about how to proceed.

Q: My 3 weeks old baby has been diagnosed with moderate hearing loss due to issues with inner ear. We found some articles talking about benefits of acupuncture treatment in such cases. Can you please advise if this is something that is proven to work and whether this can be done on babies?

A:  There are no age restrictions on treatment, and we have known people to have treated babies that are a day or two old. However, we do increasingly take the view that it requires slightly more specialist postgraduate training to approach treating the very young. However, in our specialist guidelines which are still under development treatment on children under the age of six months is not favoured because of the unreliability of many of the usual diagnostic signs at this age. We don't simply stick needles in where the problem is, and trying to work on the extremely young would be only undertaken if there was a very clear syndrome with some very specific treatments.

As far as the research itself is concerned, we have seen one or two studies which suggest that acupuncture may have a role to play in treating inner ear issues, but none which we would regard as robust enough to underpin a recommendation.

Indeed, this expert, if faced with a request like this, would almost invariably recommend that a parent took their child to a cranial osteopath. Many of the problems with neonates can arise from the pressures on the skull during delivery, and the treatment itself is extremely gentle as well as being effective for many birth problems. If you did decide to try acupuncture, however, we would recommend that you seek out someone who has attended a structured postgraduate training in the treatment of children. There are two or three course providers, whom we cannot unfortunately name, who are recognised by our community as the acknowledged experts in the field. Someone who has trained with them will know their limitations, and that is the most important thing to consider, whether it is appropriate to use acupuncture with a child so young.

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