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Can acupuncture help varicose veins?

Q:  My wife suffers with  varicose veins  in both legs. In one leg the veins  are in very projected stage.  We checked with the doctor. Laser surgery was suggested, the other suggestion was surgery..We went to an acupuncturist for advice but this was not satisfactory.It seemed the main interest was money - paying for 15 sessions.   Would acupuncture help?

A:  We don't think we, or anyone else, could give an assurance that 15 sessions of treatment or 15 days of treatment could resolve a problem like varicose veins, especially if they have reached the point where surgery is an option. In reply to a query some time ago about varicose and thread veins we said

There is no research of which we are aware suggesting that acupuncture has been used as  a front line therapy for treating thread veins, although obviously all of us have had patients over the years who have presented with varicose veins and thread veins. Here again, research into varicose veins is not that plentiful, and the results tend to be equivocal.

That said, within Chinese medicine itself all forms of pooling of blood in the lower limbs as a consequence of venous insufficiency have been interpreted within the diagnostic categories for over 2000 years - this is not a new problem! There are a number of well-recognised syndromes which can account for the problem in the terms in which we understand energy flow, and in each case the varicose/thread veins will be a part of a much wider grouping of symptoms which result from a functional disturbance in the body. Some of these may not even be recognised as symptoms; bruising easily or going to the toilet more frequently may just be written off as 'just something funny about me.' To a Chinese medicine practitioner, though, taken in conjunction with some of the independent information we get from taking the pulse at the wrist and looking at the tongue, they can point to pathologies which may be treatable. Functional disturbances tend to generate groups of symptoms which make perfect sense to us although in conventional medicine each might be treated by a different specialists.

The best advice we can give is that you pop along to a BAcC member near you for a brief informal assessment, hopefully without charge, of what may be possible. If there is good supporting evidence of wider patterns a practitioner may well feel confident about the chances of reducing the veins or stopping them getting worse.

We have to be honest, though, and say that our experience is that by the time people are beginning to consider having injections it is not that easy to reverse the trend, and we would be very very cautious about anyone who makes promises in this area. We would tend to say to a prospective patient that maybe three or four sessions would be enough to see if some small changes occur (easy in the days of digital photography), and then take a view about whether to carry on.

This remains the best advice that we can give. As far as the practitioner's request is concerned, it is not uncommon in China itself for someone to have daily treatment for 10 to 15 days for a number of conditions, although this is usually reserved for acute problems like back pain and sciatica where it is believed that a burst of treatment gathers momentum better than more spaced out sessions. Whether this would be suitable for a long term and chronic condition like varicose veins would be a professional judgement call. Without a face to face assessment of the problem we wouldn't really be able to say.

The bottom line in all cases like this is that if you are not completely satisfied with the first opinion you receive, seek another. It would be hard to believe that there is only one acupuncture provider in your area, and we would always suggest that unless someone felt perfectly