I am trying to find out if I can have acupuncture as an anaesthetic for a knee operation in the UK. Is this possible in a hospital and are there any practitioners in the UK please?

Q: I am trying to find out if I can have acupuncture as an anaesthetic for a knee operation in the UK. Is this possible in a hospital and are there any practitioners in the UK please?

A: We have been asked about the use of acupuncture anaesthesia a number of times, and a typical answer has been:

The answer to your question is that in theory acupuncture can be used as an anaesthetic, but we suspect that you will find it very difficult to locate a practitioner prepared to do it.

After Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s, and the remarkable pictures of people having some very serious operations using acupuncture anaesthesia (AA) , there was something of a surge of interest in the West in researching the use of acupuncture for pain relief and even trying to use AA. However, what the images from China did not show was that in every case there was a bank of conventional anaesthetic equipment ready for immediate use in case the AA wore off. The effects were not always guaranteed and reliable, and in the past two decades its use has now diminished to being an occasional novelty rather than mainstream practice.

We did have a colleague who agreed with great reluctance to use AA for a rhinoplasty in a patient who could not have a general anaesthetic, but he did have to study books to work out what to do. The fact that the operation went well, there was less bleeding and the patient recovered much faster was not enough to make him succumb to the blandishments of the consultant who wanted to offer him a permanent slot. He found the whole business far too stressful.

If you can find someone willing to do this your best bet may be someone who regularly uses electro-acupuncture (EA). This has the advantage of being consistent over time, and can also be ramped up if the effect starts to diminish. You might well find that some of the medical acupuncturists are more conversant with this than traditional acupuncturists, and indeed some of the physios who use acupuncture may also use EA more. Both of their registers ( http://www.medical-acupuncture.co.uk/ and https://www.aacp.org.uk/) may offer search options, as well as our own. We think you may just have to ring around until someone points you towards a practitioner they know of who regularly uses EA and may be prepared to do AA.

We are not sure that we can say any more or better than this. The only times we have come across someone having AA in the West are when an operation is necessary but for some reason the patient cannot tolerate either general anaesthetics or epidural injections. There would have to be a very strong reason for doing it, we suspect, for a consultant to be able to take what may be an enhanced risk in working in this way.

That said, a great deal depends on the operation for which you are lined up. If we are talking serious surgery like knee replacement or similar then we think it is highly unlikely. However, for arthroscopy and a number of much simpler procedures you may be able to make a case. You would probably have to sign some very serious disclaimers and make a very robust case for sidestepping the usual procedures, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

We wish you luck, and hope that you do manage to find someone who can help you.

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