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Q: Following a fall, an elderly relative has now developed painful abscesses on her leg. Can acupuncture aid the recovery?

 

A: We would tend to be rather cautious in giving advice on this question. There are a number of medical conditions which can result in abscesses where the use of acupuncture might not be advisable. If you google 'acupuncture' and 'absecesses' you will find that the first dozen or so references are to cases where abscesses are attributed to the acupuncture treatment itself, and one particular case reported by some UK medical colleagues of ours who found that a background of polyarthritis might have predisposed the patient to getting an abscess.

 
As long as there is no underlying medical condition or problem for which your relative's medical team have given advice that acupuncture is not recommended, there is no reason why your relative should not try acupuncture to see if it may speed up the healing process. In China needles are often used locally to the problem to stimulate the flow of energy and encourage healing, and there may be systemic problems from a Chinese medicine perspective which predisposed your relative to getting abscesses.
 
Chinese medicine is aimed at treating the person on all levels as much as it focuses on symptoms, and the shock of a fall may well be repercussing through your relative's system and resulting in symptoms of many kinds, the most visible and obvious of which are the abscesses. The skill of the well-trained practitioner lies in making sense of the different symptoms which a patient reports, and together with the diagnostic observations they themselves make, developing a strategy to re-create the balance in the body which the symptoms indicate has been lost.
 
We would recommend that you first check with your relative's GP whether they think acupuncture would be safe based on the care summary which they hold, and if so, you might want to contact a BAcC member local to your relative to seek their specific advice on whether acupuncture treatment may be of benefit.
 
 

 

This is a difficult question to answer. There is some evidence that acupuncture can help with PCOS, and a study of 24 patients in Goteberg is often cited as a positive indicator that acupuncture may well become a more widely used treatment. Certainly the author of this study
 
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3039006/
 
seems confident that acupuncture in particular and alternative/complementary medicine in general may well be what a great many women with the condition now turn to as a treatment strategy.
 
However, the evidence of success in treating one symptom of PCOS such as hair loss simply doesn't exist, and it might be the case that acupuncture could effect useful changes in many aspects of the condition but have no effect on the hair. If this is what the main focus of concern is, then we couldn't say with any confidence that research supports a positive recommendation.
 
However, working within an entirely different paradigm of medicine, which means that the symptoms a patient describes and the signs he or she sees are interpreted in an entirely different way. For a Chinese medicine practitioner the signs and symptoms associated with PCOS in the West may be interpreted in a number of different ways in Chinese medicine, and the treatment geared to the individual balances of the patient. In that context, there may be ways in which the hair thinning and loss may make sense, and be amenable to treatment. Anecdotally we hear of people having great successes, but the reports are self-selecting; happy people want to tell everyone, people for whom it hasn't worked tend simply to move on to another modality.
 
It would be well worth visiting a BAcC member local to you for advice, though, to see what they would recommend having had a chance to talk to you face to face about the problems you are experiencing. We trust that they will give you honest and impartial advice about your best options.  

 

'Face pain' is a little too broad a description to be able to give you a specific answer. A traditional acupuncturist would ask you the same sorts of question that your doctor would - where is it, what kind of pain, what times of day does it come on, what makes it better or worse, and so on. Because the acupuncturist works within a different framework the strategies they decide upon will be different, but will always be based on an underlying premise that pain arises from blockages, excesses or deficiencies in the body's energy which the needles are used to correct.

 

A great deal of the early research in the west was around the pain relieving qualities of using needles, and even the most hardened sceptic had to admit that people did seem to have less pain after treatment. The question is only how much relief from pain and how sustainable it is, and if you did go to see an acupuncturist you'd be well advised to set clear outcomes and regular review periods.

 

Our factsheets on the main website (click on 'research', then 'factsheets', and look at the drop down menu) gives you an idea of the sorts of research which exists for the kinds of problems which people regularly bring to acupuncture treatment.

We have provided answers to other people's questions about tinnitus, insomnia and migraines on the site already, but what is interesting about your case is the mention of all three in the same presentation. One of the strengths of Chinese medicine, which operates from an entirely different knowledge base from conventional medicine, is that it can sometimes make sense of a group of named western symptoms in a way which would not make any sense to a western practitioner. This may point a Chinese medicine practitioner towards a particular syndrome or pattern which makes sense within the Chinese medicine framework and offers possible solutions within that same framework.

 

 

Tinnitus is a highly intractable condition, and the magazines put out by the support organisations testify to the fact that while one solution may work for somebody it rarely works for everybody. Some of the more symptom-based systems of Chinese medicine are equally clear about the relatively small number of cases which present a clear diagnostic pathway, and of these the kinds of 'full' symptoms such as high BP and migraine are not usual as accompanying symptoms.

 

The best course of action is to visit a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice on whether, with this background of related complaints, they believe that they might be able to help you. If you do decide to go ahead with treatment we would recommend that you keep your progress under constant review. Conditions like tinnitus are bad enough to encourage people to persist with treatment even when their practitioner wants to draw a line under the attempt, and we believe that a responsible practitioner will have the honesty to admit when there is no more that they can do.

Trigeminal neuralgia can be a totally debilitating and painkiller-resistant problem. Although we have had a number of anecdotal remarks from members that they have treated the problem successfully it would only be fair to say that an equal number report it as having not responded. As with tinnitus, another problem which proves remarkably treatment-resistant, the best that one can sometimes achieve is to make the condition a little more bearable.

 

 

However, Chinese medicine does operate from an entirely different conceptual basis from western medicine, and is premised on the even flow and balance of energy, called 'qi', in the body. Where serious pain exists this can sometimes be due to a straightforward blockage in the flow, and on occasions such as these there is some possibility that a few simple treatments may prove to be helpful. A well trained and professional practitioner would be able to tell you relatively quickly whether they thought there was some prevailing diagnostic sign which gave them confidence that treatment might be beneficial.

 

It is perhaps also worth bearing in mind that cranial osteopathy may help in cases like these. Structural alterations in the tempero-mandibular joint brought about by accidents, injuries and occasionally fairly agrressive dental procedures can generate neuralgia, and gentle manipulation may offer another possible solution.

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