Have cases been confirmed of acupuncture being beneficial for bursitis sufferers? If so, how are these results explained?

We are usually asked more specific questions, such as 'can acupuncture help trochanteric bursitis?', and the last time we were asked a generic question about 'bursitis' was in 2012. Remarkably, we said then pretty much what we would have said now had we not found this reply:

The first question we'd have to ask is 'where?'. Many patients present at acupuncture clinics with bursitis of the major joints like the hip, knee, shoulder or elbow, and to a degree the outcome depends on exactly which joint is affected. The same would apply in western medicine; some joints are easier to treat than others, and some easier to immobilise while healing takes place.However, Chinese medicine is very different in its approach to an understanding of the body and the way it works. The theory of Chinese medicine is based on a flow of energy called 'qi' of which the body consists in different forms, and the understanding of how its balance and flow can be affected by illness, lifestyle and constitution. When people suffer from bursitis in a joint, the practitioner will want to establish first whether this is a local problem, caused by an injury or from over-use, or whether it is a consequence of a systemic problem affecting all of the joints to a degree, or a bit of both, as is often the case. Treatment will then be aimed at the appropriate cause, but will almost certainly involve some needles close to where the bursitis is.Because this is quite a broad question, we can't be more specific. There are a number of web-based research resources which will identify relevant papers if you google 'acupuncture, bursitis and the joint concerned', but we strongly suspect that they will tend to say, as many do, that the signs are positive but not conclusive. Not a great deal of research meets rigorous western standards, and the conclusions drawn from it are often cautious. This is not to say that things aren't well researched. Many thousands of studies are conducted in China each year, but they are often premised on the fact that acupuncture works and researching what works better. In the West the policy makers are still troubled by whether acupuncture works or not. We believe that it does, of course!Your best bet is to visit a BAcC member local to you to discuss your specific problem. We trust that they will give you the best advice possible about whether they can help, and if not, what other alternatives there may be.  This remains the best advice we can give, especially the last paragraph about visiting a local BAcC member for a chat about whether treatment may help. Most are only too happy to give up a small amount of time without charge to prospective patients to assess whether acupuncture treatment is the best option.As to your supplementary question, the theories of Chinese medicine tend to describe bursitis in generic terms either as Dampness, a state where the fluids of the body become more viscous and gather in confined areas such as joint capsules, or as blockages due to local obstruction. In both cases the needles stimulate movement in the energy which in turn moves the gathered fluids, but in the case of the former there is usually a systemic element which underpins the local problem. When the bursitis is accompanied by heat and pain there is also an issue about Heat which has to be dispersed. The capitalisation of phenomena like Heat, Damp, Cold and the like is indicative of an entirely different paradigm of medicine which uses terms to describe changes in the microcosm which reflect similar changes on the macrocosm. Chinese medicine abound with illustrations from nature, and in some of the diagnostic systems the annual rhythms of nature are said to be reflected in the balanced nature of the energy of the body. Alterations in this balance are said to reflect what happens in nature if there is too much heat or too much rain.This all sounds a little odd to the western ear, but a system which has survived and continues to provide relief to millions after 2500 years of use must have something more than a placebo effect going for it!

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