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Would acupuncture help focal dystonia?

Q: I have focal dystonia affecting the middle finger of my right hand brought on by repetitive strain as I have been working as a secretary for about 40 years. Physiotherapy has not really made any improvement. Would acupuncture help?

A:  Focal dystonia is an unusual problem. We are not sure how much you have been told about its causation, but although it has the characteristics of a repetitive strain injury it actually has a great deal more to do with the wiring in the brain brought on by the repeated actions. Musicians are particularly prone to focal dystonia, and sometimes the patterns are very predictable. In guitarists, for example, the third finger is most often affected.

 This may explain to some degree why the physiotherapy hasn't been particularly helpful. However, although one might think that acupuncture would be similarly ineffectual, this is where the entirely different theoretical basis of the system of traditional acupuncture may yet offer some hope. As you have probably read, acupuncture treatment is based on using needles to influence the energy of the body, called 'qi'. It is the rhythm, balance and flow of this energy which determines the health and efficient function of the system as a whole and all the individual parts of it. When the flow is impaired for any reason pain and changes in function result.

 Had this been an RSI type of problem we would have said with some confidence that acupuncture treatment could well help to restore the local flow and reduce the impact of the problem. This may well still be the case; the diagnosis of this condition can be rather imprecise and unless you have had a scan it might well be an RSI-related problem. If, however, it has a more systemic root then treatment may well be effective on a slightly wider basis, helping to improve overall function.

 With conditions like this, however, it is very difficult to say that this remove whether treatment will be of possible benefit. This is why we always recommend that someone visits a local BAcC member for advice and guidance. Most are more than willing to give up a little time without charge to give a face to face assessment of what may be possible. The only thing we would say is that if you do decide to go ahead it is important to set clear review dates for progress and try to sort out an objective measure of improvement.