Could acupuncture help with adverse reaction to oral steroids?

Q:  After treatment 2 years ago with high dose oral steroids I experienced a raft of adverse effects, including fatty deposits on my left lower leg and foot that caused extensive nerve damage and paralysis [juxta-articular adiposis dolorosa].  Clinicians tell me that there is no way of removing the fatty lumps; however, I wonder if acupuncture could stimulate the body's own mechanisms. Any information you can offer would be most appreciated.


A:  This is one of the sorts of question where we tread with great caution. Acupuncture treatment is often a treatment of last resort and we are always concerned about raising expectations where the chances of improvement are slim. However, there have been for nearly every condition we have seen cases where there has been a remarkable turnaround, and although this is often described as 'spontaneous remission or cure', often much to our colleagues annoyance, the reality is that this is the exception rather than the rule, even if it were demonstrably caused by the treatment.

 There is, as you might have expected, no research of which we are aware or could find which suggest that acupuncture treatment might help. The condition is rare, and research studies would need a much larger cohort of people to work with to have any meaningful outcome. We have not even been able to find a case study.

 However, problems such as this have been around for thousands of years, whatever the cause, and Chinese medicine would have been used to address the manifestation, just as it would for any other condition which we now recognise under a western name. Traditional acupuncture, based as it is on a flow of energy called 'qi', would have and still does look at problems like this as blockages in the flow of qi or accumulations of energy caused by stagnation. The practitioner would be keen to establish whether it was a local problem or a local manifestation of a systemic problem, and then use the needles to try to move the qi and disperse the problem.

 All sounds rather easy when put like this, but the reality is that the growth of new tissue in the body as a consequence of conventional treatment has proved very difficult to address, and if you were to present at our clinic the best that we would ever say is that it may be worth a few treatments to see if there was any noticeable change, and if so to discuss how much and how sustainable. The problem is always to determine a scale by which change can be measured. If there are clear signs that it impairs movement or causes local pain then there are scales which one can use to determine what effect the treatment has. If it's simply a matter of trying to measure the size of a fatty lump, that would be much more difficult.

 The best advice which we can give is to visit a local BAcC member to see what they make of the presentation in the context of your overall health picture. There may be something in the systemic presentation which suggests that treatment may have an impact, but in any event it would enable much more detailed advice than we can give at a distance. Most members are happy to give up a little time without charge to help prospective patients make informed decisions about their health and healthcare options.

 In summary, we think it might be a long shot to try acupuncture treatment for this problem, but we would never say 'don't' because our work is not simply about trying to get rid of specific conditions but about trying to balance the energies of the body to enable it to function as best it can. The ancient Chinese used to believe that this would enable to body to heal itself, and we have certainly seen cases where change happened against out expectations.

 

Post a question

If you have any questions about acupuncture, browse our archive or ask an expert.

Ask an expert

BAcC Factsheets

Research based factsheets have been prepared for over 60 conditions especially for this website

Browse the facts