My father is a paraplegic and has been since he was 28. He is now 61 and is suffering with severe hip pain. His hip joint is completely worn. Is acupuncture a suitable treatment for him?

Q: My father is a paraplegic and has been since he was 28. He is now 61 and is suffering with severe hip pain. His hip joint is completely worn. Is acupuncture a suitable treatment for him?

A: This is, we think, really two questions: is it OK for your father as a paraplegic to have treatment, and if so, what are the possible benefits for the problems that he has.

As far as the first is concerned there is absolutely no reason for a person with paraplegia or quadriplegia not to have treatment. Although someone may have lost conscious and voluntary nerve control of the limbs which have been affected all of the autonomic functions continue, and from a Chinese medicine perspective this means that there is energy flow which can be enhanced or corrected by suitable treatment. The main caution with problems like your father's is that there can often be a sensory deficit, so practitioners are always very careful in how they treat. If someone can't say 'stop it, that hurts' there is an increased chance of bruising, and in the case of moxibustion, an increased risk of burns. All professional acupuncturists are trained at undergraduate level in what to do with cases like this.

As far as treating hip problems themselves are concerned, a great deal depends on the level of deterioration in the joint. If the wear is great enough to warrant or nearly warrant a replacement, then we would have to be honest and say that short term pain relief would be the most we would expect to be able to offer. The question would be how much relief and how sustainable it was, and again, to be honest, this may become a question of how affordable treatment is. For people with deep pockets three or four days relief from indefinite weekly treatment may be a good deal. Most of us couldn't afford this, though, and we trust that members do their best in these circumstances to direct people to the most effective and cost-effective means of getting relief, be this herbal medicine or reflexology or any one of dozens of possible complementary medicine solutions.

The best advice that we can give is that your father visits a local BAcC member for advice about what may be possible. Nothing beats actually seeing the problems first hand in order to be able to give an accurate assessment of what may be possible, and most of our colleagues are only to happy to see prospective patients without charge to give them a good idea of what can be done.

We suspect, though, that if the wear is very considerable the amount of relief may be limited, and if someone does think treatment is worthwhile it would be advisable if they offered realistic expectations.

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