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Does acupuncture work for unilateral vocal chord paralysis?

Q:  My husband has just been diagnosed with unilateral vocal chord paralysis caused by a virus. His voice is vey weak and hoarse and surgery is not an option for at least a year.  Does acupuncture work for this condition?

A: There are a relatively small number of studies which report successed in treating vocal cord paralysis, two examples of which are
 
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The abstracts of the papers do not cite the exact treatments used, and both speak of acupuncture being used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. In one paper, as is commonly found to be the case, the use of acupuncture alongside the conventional treatment appears to speed up the patient's recovery.  However, it is best to consider these papers as indicative rather than conclusive; there are no large scale studies which make a confident prediction possible. A great deal will also depend on the extent of the cordotomy. The operation is not supposed to interfere with a patient's vocal capacity if they recover naturally, but as with all surgical procedures there is an inherent risk that some of the changes are not reversible.
 
We suspect that some of the treatment offered in the studies was local, i.e. in the area near the problem, and this can often be very effectively in stimulating a return to good function. However, a practitioner may well want to establish whether this is simply a local problem or whether this is the tip of a much larger iceberg - this would have implications for how much treatment may be required and whether it is worthwhile attempting to address this as a local issue if there is a backdrop of much more extensive imbalance.
 
If we were being brutally honest we would say that treatment may be more in hope than in expectation, but acupuncture treatment has a reputation for occasionally achieving unexpected but significant results,. so we would be happy to advise you to seek a face to face assessment with a BAcC member local to you who can give you a much better assessment by looking at the problem and your father's health in the round. 
 

Your husband's situation is not quite so drastic as this case, and there may be some greater hope that treatment may encourage a return of some of the lost function. Acupuncture treatment will certainly not do any harm, and since there are a number of functional disturbances seen from a Chinese medicine perspective which impionge directly on the effective use of the voice, it may be that an experienced practitioner can see a direct intervention which may help. Even in the absence of a direct connection, the underlying premise of Chinese medicine, the treatment of the patient rather than the illnss, may offer some possibility of a speedier recovery.
 
It is best to talk to a BAcC member face to face, though, to get a more accurate assessment of whether acupuncture treatment may be of benefit, and we are confident that you will receive honest and impartial advice.