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Can acupuncture help spondylolisthesis?

Q: ] I have been diagnosed with Spondylolisthesis (slipped disc).  I have spent  approximately £600 on chiropracty and podiatry and  would like to know if acupuncture would be effective. 

A:  We are always a little reluctant to make claims for the potential success of acupuncture treatment when there has been structural change in the body that is unlikely to reverse. In some cases, for example, the use of acupuncture treatment to strengthen muscles which then cause someone's posture to revert to its normal position is well-documented, and many practitioners work alongside osteopaths to off a two-pronged approach to treatment. If the spondylolisthesis you have involves a relatively short forward displacement, there may be some possibility that this may be of considerable benefit. In this case, however, we would usually be guided by the osteopath's view of what is happening; they are, after all, the experts in bone and structure.

Conventional treatment is generally about pain management through anti-inflammatories, steroids and some physiotherapy. Acupuncture treatment has a long history of being used for chronic pain; indeed, this is one of the more frequently researched areas, mainly because the markers of pain and pain relief in body chemistry are easily measured and mean that research can be quantified easily. Our factsheet on chronic pain

is generally pretty upbeat about what can be achieved. In clinical practice most of us do not find the reduction of pain difficult to achieve. What really matters is the extent to which the pain is relieved and how sustainable the relief is. In the end it may come down to a financial equation - if someone needs weekly treatment almost indefinitely but as a result can function nearly normally, that hay be the equation they have to deal with. We know that some practitioners are not happy to work indefinitely without making long-term improvements, but occasionally treatment can be about stability or ever getting worse slower, so if a patient is happy to be kept going in this way, so be it.

Since each case of a condition like this is likely to be unique, we think that the only realistic advice is to visit a BAcC practitioner near and ask for a brief face to face assessment of what they think they might be able to achieve. Most practitioners review progress after the first four or five sessions when dealing with chronic conditions, and if there is no improvement consider the benefit of continuing while the bill has only reached the £200 mark. If the practitioner can sense changes in some of the diagnostic signs which make them believe that change is on the way, then the patient can make an informed decision about whether to continue rather than simply run up a large treatment bill without tangible results.

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