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Home > Newsletters > May 2005 >

Ask the Doctor

Q: Is acupuncture used to treat neuropathy of the feet? The cause is unknown and doctors have tested me for the common causes which are all negative. Is there any success with acupuncture for neuropathy of the feet?

A: Peripheral neuropathy is a syndrome which includes symptoms of numbness, tingling, insensitivity, pain, and muscle weakness and atrophy. Usually it secondary to conditions including diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, alcoholism, HIV, or poisoning from heavy metals, carbon monoxide, or various drugs. When there is a Western medical diagnosis of a disease, treatment usually centers on treating the primary disease. This may slow the progression peripheral neuropathy and improve the symptoms.

Treating a condition such as peripheral neuropathy with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does not require a Western diagnosis. In fact, if there is a Western diagnosis, no matter what the disease is, a patient will be treated based on their particular pattern according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Western diagnosis is useful in understanding the seriousness of the condition, knowing if it is progressive, and helps determining the prognosis.

Currently Western medicine does not have an effective treatment for peripheral neuropathy. However, many conditions which do not benefit from Western medical treatment can be helped with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In TCM, Peripheral neuropathy is due to obstruction of the Qi (energy) and blood. This can be due unregulated eating and drinking, excessive fatigue, aging, or chronic disease. An acupuncturist looks at the total body picture. In treating peripheral neuropathy, acupuncture points on various parts of the body would be used to treat the person according to their particular pattern (treating the root) and points on the feet would also be used (treating the branch). In general, acupuncture works by improving the health of a person and bringing the body into balance so that it can heal itself. Acupuncture helps peripheral neuropathy by improving the circulation and moving Qi and blood to the extremities. The nerve tissues can be nourished and nerve function can be improved.

Plum blossom needling may also be used at the areas of the neuropathy. A plum blossom needle is shaped like a very small hammer with a group of needles on the head. To treat neuropathy, the skin would be lightly
tapped starting at the feet and working up the legs. Patients can be given a plastic, disposable plum blossom needle and be taught how to use it for treatment at home.

In conclusion, acupuncture can indeed help in treating peripheral neuropathy. However, in China, oral herbal medicinals are used as the
primary treatment and acupuncture is used as an adjunctive therapy when treating peripheral neuropathy. Therefore, if herbal formulas are used with acupuncture treatment better results can be obtained.

Jeane Houle, L.Ac.

Q: Can acupuncture help Multiple Sclerosis, especially with balance and walking?

A:  Multiple Sclerosis is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects 400,000 Americans. There is destruction of the myelin sheaths around the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerves producing a variety of symptoms which are due to the location, extent, and pattern of the demylination. In Western Medicine the etiology of MS is unknown and there is no cure.

Acupuncture is a modality used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The Traditional Chinese Medicine concept of internal organs is very different from the Western Medicine concept. In Western Medicine an internal organ is viewed only by its function and its anatomical location. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, an internal organ is viewed as a complex system which include not only the anatomical entity, but also corresponding emotions, tissues, sense organs, and more. The following explanation of the Spleen, Liver, and Kidneysí involvement in MS is based on the Traditional Chinese Medicine concept of these organ systems.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine long term unregulated eating, unregulated emotions, trauma, stress, and overwork play a part in Multiple Sclerosis. Cold, dairy, and greasy-fried foods weaken the Spleen and lead to the formation of dampness which further weakens the Spleen. Excessive emotions such as anger are said to harm the Liver and it will overcontrol the Spleen. When the Spleen is weakened, it cannot provide nourishment to the body and this weakens the bodyís Qi (energy). The Kidneys also play a part in the bodyís energy according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and when the Spleen energy is not available, the stored Kidney energy will also become depleted and the body will weaken further.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine internal organ theory, the Kidney rules the brain and spinal cord and the Liver controls the nerves. If the Kidney and Liver are harmed, then there could be trouble with the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.

In TCM, the most common cause of MS is dual Spleen Qi deficiency and Liver and Kidney deficiency. However, it is a complicated disease and the diagnosis will be complex. Other patterns will be involved. It is important to have a thorough diagnosis by a qualified practitioner.

Regarding the question of balance and walking, in the beginning stages there is usually signs of dampness, indicating a problem with the Spleen. Symptoms of dampness include heaviness and numbness of the legs. In the middle stages there is Kidney and Liver deficiency which include dizziness when standing and weakness of the legs. If there is vertigo, vomiting, and stiff legs, Liver energy rising is the diagnosis. In the late stages there will be Liver Wind, which will produce tremors and spasms of the legs.

Acupuncture treatment is designed around a patientís particular pattern discrimination. Acupuncture needles should be place on various parts of the body depending on the particular TCM diagnosis. The legs should be treated by using local points to remove blockages in the channels. Acupuncture points to calm the mind can also be helpful.

The earlier it is in the course of the disease, the easier Multiple Sclerosis is to treat. Treatment started early can eliminate many symptoms entirely. As the disease progresses, there is increasing incoordination and weakness of the legs. If walking is still possible, acupuncture should be able to produce results. For those who are in wheelchairs, however, results tend to be poor or may be non-existent.

Acupuncture can help with balance and walking, but it since this problem doesnít occur until a person has had the disease for some time, patience is needed as it will probably take many treatments to achieve good results. Patient involvement is important. The acupuncturist should advise as to what changes in diet and lifestyle need to be made. More rest may be needed and as well as reduction in stress. A positive mental attitude, light exercise and Chinese herbal formulas can also help.

In conclusion, although acupuncture canít cure Multiple Sclerosis, it can bring some relief as it can help moderate the symptoms, keep a person in remission longer, and slow the progression of the disease.

Jeane Houle, L.Ac.

About our Doctors

Jeane Houle, L.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Masters degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine in private practice in Santa Monica, California. Her office address is 2901 Ocean Park Boulevard, Suite 207, Santa Monica, CA 90405, and she can be reached at (310) 396-8766

This Month's Articles

May, 2005
Volume 3, Number 5

Acupuncture Face-Lift:
Rejuvenation from the Outside In

Allergic Rhinitis from a TCM Perspective

Lupus and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Recent Research

Ask The Doctor


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