Ask an expert - body - head - ear

28 questions

Q:  I have been told that I have wear in my 5th and 6th vertebra can acupuncture help this. I have also been told I have positional vertigo could it also help this?

A: Starting with positional vertigo, as our factsheet shows there is some evidence that acupuncture treatment may be helpful, as our factsheet shows:
 
 http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/vertigo.html

 

There are a number of conventional treatments for positional vertigo, however, and some of these are well worth a go. Many involve peculiar sequences of movements to remove or re-position little bits of debris within the canals of the ear which appear to be linked to the problem. Acupuncture can help where there is evidence, from a Chinese medicine perspective, of some blockage in the flow of energy around the ears which, whether a local problem or systemic one, could be moved by using needles and reduce the impairment which causes the spinning feeling on movement.

 

The presentations of vertigo tend to be unique to the individual, though, and the best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment of whether they think treatment may benefit you.

 

As far as the wear and tear in the 5th and 6th vertebrae is concerned, we're not sure which ones you're referring to, the cervical spine (neck) or the thoracic spine (back). If your cervical vertebrae are worn there is a possibility that you may suffer from some minor impingement which could cause secondary problems in the upper arms and neck. If this is affecting the movement of your neck and head it may be associated with your vertigo, although this would be a long shot.  In either case, what's gone has gone, and the best that acupuncture treatment might achieve would be some reduction in the inflammation and discomfort caused by the narrowing of vertebral gaps and attendant pressure on surrounding tissues. The only question would be how much relief from the discomfort, and how sustainable it turned out to be. If the effects can last weeks rather than days, there may be some value to having regular treatment.

 

The question which always manifests for us is that most people over the age of 50 have significant wear and tear in the spine, and it is not always the case that pains which appear in that area are directly caused by what the X-rays or scans show. If that was the case then it would be inconceivable that someone would improve, but we have encountered many clinical situations where the deterioration has remained but the symptoms have all vanished. The strength of Chinese medicine is that it is based on an entirely different view of how the body functions, and this can sometimes provide explanations for symptoms where conventional medicine is unable to explain adequately what is going on (this cuts the other way, by the way - the modern understanding of brain function, for example, explains problems which to the Chinese must have defied their attempts to understand and resolve). 

 

Again, however, we have to say that you are best served by seeing a BAcC member local to you for a face to face assessment of what might be possible. 
 

 

 

As you can imagine, we have been asked this question on several occasions, and our replies have not been that encouraging. The fact sheet which we have on the website
 
http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/tinnitus.html
 
is quite upbeat about a number of small studies, but our clinical experience is not as good, with tinnitus among the more intractable conditions with which patients present. In a recent answer, to which we can probably not add a great deal more, we said:

A. Tinnitus is one of the more intractable conditions which people seek acupuncture treatment for. Our Tinnitus fact sheet, found at lists a small amount of research which suggests that acupuncture may help, but there have been no significant trials which provide solid evidence. It is also fair to say that many practitioners are very cautious about taking on patients for whom tinnitus is the primary problem. It is quite easy to spend considerable time and money and be no better off than when you started, and the individual case reports in the tinnitus sufferers' magazines often have the same shape.

However, what many practitioners do find when treating people with tinnitus is that while the noise remains largely unchanged their ability to cope with it seems to improve. Evidence for this is largely anecdotal, though, and it would be wise to discuss carefully with any future practitioner whether they think that they might be able to help. In all events we would recommend that frequent and regular reviews of outcomes and progress are essential.

We don't think you can say more than this. There are two or three clearly identifable patterns in Chinese medicine, described as syndromes, where tinnitus is a specific named symptom which frequently appears, and it is possible, if your tinnitus has arisen as a part of the syndrome, that there may be some help which acupuncture treatment may offer. An experienced practitioner should be able to make a very straightforward determination on whether this is the case. Overall, however, there is not a great deal of cause for optimism about getting rid of the unwanted noise.  


 

A:  The evidence for the use of acupuncture treatment for hearing loss is patchy. There have been a number of small but relatively inconclusive studies, but the focus of each has been very specific, not simply a generalised loss of hearing but a specific physical or neurological cause. On the basis of this we would have to be very guarded in our recommendations.
 
However, hearing loss has been around since ancient times, and the Chinese medicine practitioners of the last 2000 years have addressed it in a number of ways based on their understanding of how the energy of the body, called 'qi', promotes and maintains the faculty of hearing. If any of the aspects of the system which work together to provide this faculty are injured or weakened, then someone's hearing may be affected.
 
In practical terms, this might mean that there are clearly discernible patterns which a practitioner might see quickly and be able to offer you some encouragement. Even in the absence of clearly identifiable patterns there may still be some hope of change; chinese medicine is based on the balance of the system as a whole, and although symptoms are important they are not the same as the problem, simply a manifestation of the deeper underlying imbalances. Someone working at this kind of level might also be able to help.
 
However, we have to say that acupuncture treatment does not have a highly convincing track record in treatment hearing loss because the majority of causes are to do with the nerves or physical changes in the ear, and neither is likely to be amenable to treatment. That does not mean it is not worth visiting a BAcC member local to you for advice; it is always worthwhile getting a face to face assessment of what someone believes they may be able to achieve, and it is possible they may see more cause for optimism than you are getting here.
 
As far as ear wax is concerned, syringing is always the best option, or Hopi ear candles if you want to try something slightly alternative. We are not aware of any acupuncture treatment that can guarantee to help this, and the conventional options are simple and effective.
 



The consensus amongst both orthodox and complementary medical practitioners is that nerve deafness is rather intractable to treatment. You can certainly find one or two case histories from acupuncture websites, such as this one from America
 
please click here
 
which report one-off 'cures' but the reality is that most cases of nerve deafness do not respond. The majority appear to be caused by problems with the small hair-like projections which detect sound, and once these are damaged or inoperative there is not a great deal to be done.
 
Obviously from a Chinese medicine perspective, resting as it does on an entirely different understanding of the way that the body functions involving an energy called 'qi' and its flow and balance, there may be blockages which a skilled practitioner can detect and the treatment of which may have an impact on your hearing. We would regard this as a very long shot, however, and even if the practitioner did detect blockages in the flow which from a Chinese medicine perspective might be considered likely to have a functional impact on someone's hearing, we would recommend only a short course of treatment to see if there were immediate and discernible changes.
 
You can find a practitioner local to you by using our 'find a practitioner' function, and it would be worth asking if the ones nearest to you would be happy to spare a few minutes without charge to offer you a brief face to face assessment of whether they think acupuncture treatment may be of value.   
 

There is no research of which we are aware that has looked specifically into the maintenance of air pressure in the ears, and on that basis we cannot offer you a judgement about whether acupuncture is useful.
 
A great deal depends on what you are asking, however. We are assuming that your question implies some failure of pressure maintenance, which implies either some form of physical damage or perforation, or some form of condition which affects the equalisation of pressures, such as a continuing infection or build up of fluids in the area. If it is the former, acupuncture treatment may not be appropriate, especially if the problem has been deemed to be irreversible in conventional medicine. If it is the latter, a great deal would depend on the exact nature of the problem, and for this our best advice is to visit a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice on whether they believe that on the basis of a face to face assessment there is some chance that they might help.

 

We always answer questions such as yours cautiously because there is an initial premise in Chinese medicine that acupuncture treatment restores functions by encouraging the proper flow of energy in the channels and by restoring the proper functioning of the internal Organs (the capital letter denotes the Chinese understanding of an Organ.). Many practitioners would argue that the sorts of problems generated by pressure maintenance problems in the ears have existed since ancient times, and the Chinese would have classified these within the recognised syndromes of Chinese medicine diagnosis. Ergo, they would be treatable on this basis. However, we have the advantage of much more sophisticated information by virtue of Xrays and scans, and there are a number of inner ear problems which will not be amenable to treatment, however closely the symptoms they generate conform to a recognised pattern within Chinese medicine diagnosis. 

 

As above, therefore, we recommend that you seek advice from a BAcC member who can address your specific concerns. 
 

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