Ask an expert - neuro and psycho logical

222 questions

Can acupuncture make PTSD symptoms worse? I had acupuncture done on my ears and I had my first PTSD episode in 3 months.

A: The short answer would be 'probably not' unless there was something about the treatment itself which re-awakened some of the trauma which initiated the problem. We have encountered this on a couple of occasions with patients who have been stabbed, but it is rare.

What is more likely is that the treatment has released something which the body has held on to. We often find that shock and stress can be held almost like memories in the system, and from our perspective as Chinese medicine practitioners this them interferes with the normal flow of energy, and can manifest in the sorts of symptoms which are classified as PTSD and to which the system ultimately adjusts to get on with life. Once a practitioner starts to balance things up again these patterns can often be released, and this can sometimes result in a resurgence of the original problems and even the initial shock.

The homoeopaths actually acknowledge this formally within their systems as the 'law of cure' where symptoms can re-appear in the reverse chronological order, and although we would not go this far we are aware that when we treat people with a history of migraine or other problems from the past which it is assumed they have 'grown out of' there is a strong chance that they might have another bout.

One small concern is that you talk about using ear acupuncture. We think this can be a valuable modality for addressing many issues, and there are indeed practitioners in the UK who train exclusively in this based on the work of people like Nogier, a French man who really developed this as a working method in the 1950s and 1960s. We would hope that the person who is offering the treatment is doing so within a framework which provides proper support to you as a patient. If you have had the treatment for one problem and it brings back another one we would expect that there is some safety net in place which means that you haven't had this very unpleasant problem dropped back on you without some chance to address it.

We suspect that it will be a one-off episode, but even so we know just how difficult it can be and how frightened that people can become that it returns for a longer time. If this episode continues we would probably advise you not to continue having ear acupuncture unless it is within a setting which affords you proper and appropriate support.

A:  We are not quite sure whether your question relates to the age of the patient or to the problem she has.

Let us be clear straight away that age itself is not a factor in treatment. We have seen treatments given to new born babies and to 100 year olds, and there is always something which can be done to improve the balance of the system and the flow of energy within it. The only factor which may change is the ability to respond to treatment and even here there are no set rules. This 'expert' used to treat a lady in her 90s whose energy responded better than most to very simple treatments.

As far as migraines are concerned, these are one of the more frequent problems with which we have to deal on a regular basis. As our factsheet shows in a rather matter of fact way

  http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/migraines.html


there is a gathering body of evidence which shows that acupuncture is at least as good at conventional treatments with the added advantage that the body does not have to deal with the relatively strong medications which are routinely prescribed for the problem.  Of course, all migraines are different, and one of the great strengths of Chinese medicine is its concern to establish why this person gets this migraine, which means understanding not only what the whole picture of the system presents but also what counts as a migraine. This is a very flexible definition, and although there are family resemblances between all migraines, not everyone experiences every feature.

The best treatment patterns, in our experience, often involve a number of weekly sessions followed by a series of subsequent visits at longer intervals. Getting migraines under control is not the same as getting rid of them altogether, and the risk of stopping treatment too soon when they appear to have stopped is that when they return people conclude that the acupuncture did not work.

The best advice that we can give, however, is to visit a local BAcC member for an informal chat and face to face assessment of what may be possible. This is likely to give a much better idea of what benefits there may be and will also offer someone a chance to meet the practitioner and see where they work before committing to treatment.

Q: My father suffered cerebral haemorrhage and left side paralysis due high B.P.  Accordingly he was treated without operation. All is normal now except left side paralysis. Since last 4 days he is being treated with electro acupuncture. Will this help in his recovery and if so, then to what extent? 

 

A:  We are glad to hear that your father has made a good recovery apart from the left side paralysis.

There is no doubt that acupuncture can be used to help in stroke recovery. In a review paper which we have on our website which is probably far too complex for your immediate needs 

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/arrc/public-review-papers/stroke-and-acupuncture-the-evidence-for-effectiveness.html

we take a good look at the evidence, and there is no doubt that research has shown that there is a benefit. Indeed, in China acupuncture is often used as a frontline treatment against the immediate effects of a stroke. It is not uncommon for someone to begin a course of treatment on the day of admission to hospital, the logic being that restoring the flow of energy as soon as possible can stop the body becoming 'set.'

If someone starts treatment a little later it appears to reduce the effectiveness a little, and our experience is that change may take longer to achieve. We have to remind people, though, that we treat people, not conditions, and our aim is to restore balance in all of the system. This might mean, for example, having an impact as well on the high BP, as well as helping the patient to feel more focused and positive about their recovery.

It is impossible to predict any outcome with accuracy, though. So much will depend on the amount of damage caused by the stroke and by the person's state of health before it happened. That there will be a benefit we have no doubt. Whether it is worth the investment in time and money is a judgement call, and we would expect a reputable practitioner to be as alert to this as a patient - none of us likes to treat someone when there is limited improvement, and we would often consider what might work better as an alternative.

We hope that you do see some positive changes soo 



Q:  My 92 year old mother has been suffering with what she has been told by a GP with tension headaches. These headaches start as soon as she is upright but not when she is laying down. She has them everyday. She has severe osteoporosis in her spine and arthritis in her neck.  My question is "is it safe for her to have acupuncture"

A:  There is nothing in what you have told us to give any hint that acupuncture would be at all unsafe. The only problems might be associated with mobility and visiting a clinic, but we are sure that you have had to address these already in getting your mother to various appointments, so your systems are probably well geared to this.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that acupuncture can have a very positive effect on tension headaches, as our factsheet shows:

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/headache.html

With the elderly patient we usually start with relatively gentle treatment and needle rather more conservatively, using less needles and less needle manipulation, until we have assessed how well they can handle treatment. Most are probably more hardy than us younger ones, but there is no reason not to start slowly. Older people can also be slightly more prone to bruising and slight bleeding after needle insertion, so we always near this in mind when treating.

Overall, though, it is always a pleasure to treat the elderly. They often respond very well, and they have usually reached the stage where they tell people exactly what is happening, which can make feedback very direct on occasion. We wish you luck finding a good practitioner for her.

Q:  I am interested in having acupuncture as I am suffering from a dissociative condition called Depersonalisation Disorder at the moment, and - in order to aid my recovery - am trying to reduce my anxiety levels. I am taking some anti-anxiety medication (Venlafaxine) and am on the waiting list to be seen by a specialist at The Maudsley but, in the meantime, thought it worth pursuing some other avenues. I just read the following on your website which prompted me to get in touch:

Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:
Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010).
Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain's mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007). Would you suggest I pursue acupuncture?


A:  The information which you quote is probably the least representative material on our website of what we actually do. There has been a considerable amount of research into acupuncture looking at the effect of treatment on specific chemical and hormone balances in the body, and unsurprisingly sticking needles in people does tend to change these. However, the acupuncture used in the studies is often very much formula/cookbook style of treatment (it has to be to meet the criteria for the gold standard of medical research, the randomised double blind control trial), and our usual take on this is to ask how much better the results would be if the treatment was tailored to the individual needs of the specific patient, as our work always is.

We do treat many patients with anxiety, as you know from looking at the factsheets where the information you quote comes from. However, we always take great care to understand what someone's experience of anxiety is, what it actually means to them to be anxious. Some people find this kind of talk odd, but disease labels like anxiety and depression can mean vastly different things to different people, and the pathological changes in someone physical, mental and spiritual functions can be very different and point in an almost limitless direction of potential treatments.

DPD is an odd condition, but it will not surprise you to know that that ancient Chinese had ways of understanding the feelings with which you may be familiar, such as the dissociation and feeling of being outside oneself. That does not necessarily mean that this offers treatment solutions in the modern world, but the way in which you experience some of the episodes may greatly enhance a practitioner's understanding of what is going on.

We think that there would be no harm in trying acupuncture, but we would very much recommend that before committing to treatment you arrange to meet a practitioner or number of practitioners in your area. You may find that some will be reluctant to take your case on; some may feel that it is not within their scope of practice or limits of competence. However, most will, and it would give you a chance to meet them and see where they work before committing.

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