Can acupuncture treat swollen feet through fluid retention?

A:  From a Chinese medicine perspective the $64,000 question is what is causing the fluid retention, and your question illustrates perfectly how difficult it is to take a symptom by itself and offer a view about its treatability. There are a number of reasons in Chinese medicine why someone might start to retain fluid, many of which track back to under-performance in one or two organs (we capitalise the word because an organ in Chinese medicine is not simply a physical object but a description of a range of functions in body, mind and emotion). The fact that we can then say that a spleen or kidney is under-performing leads to the next level of questioning: what is it about
the overall balance in the person's system which causes this part to malfunction? Is the problem in the organ itself, or is it caused by another organ not working well and having a knock-on effect?

This again leads to questions about the person's lifestyle and daily routines. As an example, many cases of fluid retention track back to the Spleen, which in Chinese thought is responsible both for sending fluids around the body and also for holding things up, a sort of internal gravity. When it does not work well, fluids gather and tend to sink, so many people end up with swelling in the middle and lower part of the body and then related problems like varicose veins. The Spleen does not thrive on cold and damp conditions, so a diet rich in raw fruit and vegetables, dairy produce and other cold, damp foods will already put pressure on the Spleen even if it is healthy,
and in one which is already under-performing push it a stage further into malfunction. Treatment might then be supplemented by dietary advice.

However, this is jumping the gun! The very first thing that a practitioner might do would be to look at the circulation in the area, not just the blood circulation from a western point of view but the energy circulation from a Chinese medicine perspective. There are often functional disturbances behind problems like this, but there can also be much simpler superficial disturbances, the treatment of which can be much more straightforward.

To have a really good idea of what is going on, and to avoid guessing at how problems like this might respond to treatment it is always best to trot along to a local BAcC member who with very little investigation will probably be able to offer you a reasonably accurate estimate of what may be possible after looking at your feet and asking you a number of questions. Crucially they will also be able to take the pulse at the wrist and look at the tongue, both Chinese methods of diagnosis that can very rapidly point to major areas of disturbance and change. On this basis they are likely to be able to give you a fairly good idea of what may be possible.

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