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Can acupuncture help with depression?

Q:  My wife had a spinal fusion 3 years ago Although this was a success she is in severe pain due to scar tissue touching the nerves in the back In addition she suffers severe depression which is historical and increased by her continuous pain and lack of movement Can acupuncture help her?

A:  There is some increasingly good evidence for the use of acupuncture in the treatment of depression, as out factsheet shows

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/depression.html
 
and as does a heavily publicised research trial by BAcC member Hugh Macpherson and colleagues published very recently

 
 http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001518

Where the depression is linked to a continuing health problem, however, the situation becomes a little more complex. We find that when someone has a chronic and unpleasant physical pain which does not yield it can become a great deal more difficult to deal with the depression that this causes and the underlying depression to which this has added.

If your wife's pain results from scar tissue, then this will take a finite time for the body to deal with. Evidence suggests that this can reduce in impact over time, but some does not. We are reluctant to commit ourselves on whether internal scarring is treatable with acupuncture. We have certainly a great deal of anecdotal evidence about helping with problems at a superficial level by reinstating the flow of energy across operation scars, but less clearly demonstrable evidence for the internal scarring which occurs after lower back operations or disc herniations.

However, as a general principle, traditional acupuncture is concerned with the maintenance of a good flow of energy in well-defined pathways in the body, and any major surgery or injury will interfere with this flow. Using needles to restore as much flow as possible to its original state can never do harm and may do a great deal of good. The term 'speeding up the healing process' is often used and this is what many patients believe that we achieve, but one has to be careful because trials designed to validate this are hard to construct, expensive and not always reliable.

Where there is an interaction between two problems such as these, we tend to believe that the best advice we can give is to visit a BAcC member local to you and get a brief face to face assessment of what may be possible. Nearly all of our members are happy to give up a small amount of time without charge to assess someone's suitability for treatment, and because we look at everything which is going on in the person we can often make some very rapid but valuable assessments of the context and backdrop against which the presenting problems have appeared. This can make a very substantial difference to the kind of prognosis a practitioner might offer. It is also possible to direct someone to other forms of treatment if that would be more appropriate, and this often allows for the kind of personal referral which helps prospective patients find their way through the very large number of complementary therapists practising in their area.

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BAcC Factsheets

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