Q: I have been experiencing sore joints and muscles, pins/needles, dull skin, lifeless hair, feeling overwhelmed, sleep problems, etc. Blood tests have been done and my GP referred me to a Rheumatologist. Rheumatologist believes my symptoms are due to stress and peri-menopause. I've been prescribed Nortriptyline at a low dose but I'm not keen on taking these. I'm interested in trying accupuncture first - do you think it would be of any benefit?
A: There are a number of quite complex issues going on here, and we are always a little disappointed when all-purpose labels like stress and peri-menopause are offered as the primary reasons. These may well be the case, but we would expect there to be a little more investigation than you report, especially of symptoms like the pins and needles and muscle aches. We're not suggesting that you have some dire undiagnosed condition, but it demonstrates to use very clearly that for patients who have a number of diffuse symptoms across several systems, the conventional medicine response can often seem rather inadequate.
There is a considerable amount of evidence for the benefits of acupuncture treatment in several of these areas, but rather than pick up each of these symptoms in a rather conventional way and quote statistics, we think in your case it may be better to look at the way that Chinese medicine works. Based as it is on a belief that the body mind and spirit are all manifestations of a flow of energy called 'qi', all the symptoms which a patient experiences are evidence that the qi in the body is not flowing as it should. The Organs of the body, always capitalised when we speak of them because they are groups of functions with far wider scope than the understanding an an organ in the West, are responsible for maintaining the flow, so that when symptoms appear which demonstrate that they are not working well, a complex pattern emerges of the way that weaknesses in one place affect everything else. The practitioner's task is to take all of this information and to trace the patterns of causation to find which the primary movers are.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that the symptom is not always the problem, and that treating symptoms alone may not have a lasting impact. Indeed, groups of symptoms of very different kind, like memory problems and bruising, can point to a single Organ not working well, but taken with other diagnostic signs can show that this is not the problem, but another Organ with which it is in dynamic balance. The old Chinese texts are full of remarks like 'when the child screams, feed the mother' to remind people that when a problem occurs it may not be the obvious answer which leaps out first. Treating the person as a whole, not simply the disease, avoids the piecemeal approach.
The best advice we can give, based on what you have told us, is to see if a BAcC member local to you will spare you twenty minutes or so to discuss your problems and see what is going on, especially looking at a couple of diagnostic signs which will cut through the confusions of the overall presentation. Most members are happy to offer this without charge, and are even known to refer patients to other modalities if they think there is a better solution to their problems. We are confident that a trained and qualified practitioner will quite quickly be able to make sense of some of the presentations of your problems from a Chinese medicine perspective, and give you a good idea of what may be possible.
That is not to offer a guarantee of positive outcomes, though. For some problems, or for some life situations which drive the problems along, it is not always possible to achieve as much as one would like, and the responsible practitioner will always review constantly what they are achieving to ensure that a patient's investment of time and money is not being wasted.