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Can acupuncture help with burning tongue syndrome?

Q:  Can acupuncture help with burning tongue syndrome? I have suffered for many years with no physiological reason for this and the constant pain is driving me mad.

There is a very small amount of encouraging evidence from small-scale studies such as this

as well as a number of studies which involve the use of electro-acupuncture and laser treatment. However, to be able to make a whole-hearted recommendation we would need to have a great deal more to go on.

However, the human physiology involved in Chinese medicine is very different from that which underpins conventional medicine. The central concept of qi, or energy, is similar to concepts of ki and prana in other South East Asian medical traditions, a life force which constitutes everything and whose balance, flow and movement determine overall health. The Organs of the body, which are much wider in meaning that the equivalent organs of the same name in western medicine, and the flow in the channels which they govern contribute to all our functions. A Chinese medicine practitioner will try to make sense of the symptoms which someone has as either a local blockage or a systemic problem of which this is the tip of the iceberg. In many cases it is both; a system out of balance tends to let small problems arise elsewhere which are not on the surface directly related to each other.

This is a rather long-winded way of saying that when a symptom like yours starts and persists, the practitioner will look at the whole system to see how it has manifested and what can be done to correct it. It goes without saying that each person is unique and different from this perspective, but the appearance of heat anywhere in the body can usually be made sense of within Chinese medicine, where the patterns often use the language of heat, cold, damp and other climate factors to describe some of the manifestations of disharmony.

The best advice we can give is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment. They are much better placed than we to offer advice, and may well pick up a number of factors in the system which point to why this has started. If so, they will be able to give you a reasonable idea of how much treatment you may need.

In conditions like this we tend to the view that there will always be some improvement, and the key question is how much improvement and how sustainable it is. This can sometimes become an issue of cost effectiveness - is the expense worth it for three or four days of relief - but what we ask members to avoid is getting locked into a long course of treatment without clear outcomes or reviews, and without any clear sign of improvement. If nothing happens after three or four sessions it is important to consider whether it is worth continuing.

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