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My mother has experienced a loss of functionality and feeling in the lower body due to a suspected spinal cord inflammation

Q. I am contacting you on behalf of my mother who has experienced a loss of functionality and feeling in the lower body due to a suspected spinal cord inflammation; feeling/mobility has shown slow/small sign of returning.

Can acupuncture assist in reinvigorating nerve path ways and also address "pain"?

I would be interested in speaking to a specialist who could help discuss this and also understanding the possible help acupuncture could offer.

Thank you for your time and help with this matter.

A. We would be very reluctant to be too committal about the reinvigoration of nerve pathways. There is a small amount evidence for nerve regeneration through the use of acupuncture but this is mainly based on experiments with animals, what our colleagues sometimes refer to as 'ratpuncture' and usually only the peripheral nerves which even in western physiology can show signs of regeneration. Spinal nerves are another matter, and we suspect that a great deal depends on the extent of the impingement caused by the suspected inflammation.

The one hope would be that from a Chinese medicine perspective something has caused a blockage in the flow of energy, some of the more important channels run along the length of the spine, and that treatment might restore proper flow. It is a long shot, but that doesn't mean that it cannot work. What it does mean, though, is that if there is a blockage it will clear quickly, so we would be reluctant to see anyone commit to a long course of treatment.

When it comes to pain there are stronger grounds for believing that acupuncture might bring some relief. After Nixon's visit to China in the 1979s there was a great deal of research into acupuncture for pain relief and anaesthesia, and it was easy to demonstrate that treatment can cause the release of neurotransmitters. Many Pain Clinics now routinely offer acupuncture treatment. The main question is how much relief treatment gives and how sustainable the changes are. If the changes are short-lived then treatment may not be the answer unless it is precisely targeted at times when people need to be pain-free.

As far as specialists are concerned most traditional acupuncture practitioners are by the nature of the system of medicine generalists, and we have never heard of anyone specialising in this field. from our perspective we treat people, not conditions, and our understanding is based on looking at how the whole system functions. Your local BAcC member is perfectly well qualified to offer you a view of how much benefit your mother might derive from treatment. indeed,most of our colleagues are happy to give up a few minutes without charge to prospective patients so that they can make a properly informed choice about treatment.

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