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Acupuncture is a safe alternative treatment for multiple sclerosis that patients may want to consider. What should you know about it?

Multiple sclerosis has no cure, and there are limited treatment options for the symptoms. While some therapies focus on stopping or slowing the progression of the disease to combat its degenerative properties, there are few that really do much for some of the most common symptoms. Physical and occupational therapy can help, but these don’t always address the full range of symptoms in a patient.

Because of this, many patients have sought out alternative treatments that can complement traditional medicine in helping with pain and other issues, the symptoms that inhibit a full life. Acupuncture, while still considered an alternative practice, has weaved its way into the more common therapies used for many purposes with lots of promise in how it helps people. Of course, there are several things multiple sclerosis patients should know about acupuncture prior to starting treatment.


1. How acupuncture works

Acupuncture is the practice of using very thin needles to insert into the skin at varying depths over carefully appointed spots in order to cause a change in the body. The idea in traditional practice is more spiritual than medical, with the aim of balancing energy. However, “modern” medicine has discovered that there seem to be scientifically verifiable benefits of this practice.

While science has not proven the existence of qi (“chee”), or life force, or the meridians (pathways) through which the life force flows, studies show improvement in a number of conditions based on acupuncture therapy. Some hypothesize that the points chosen for needle insertion correspond with particular nerve locations that prompt action within the body, stimulating certain autonomic actions or even chemical releases.

2. Uses for acupuncture

Some of the more common conditions recognized as benefiting from acupuncture include:

  • Relieving pain in the lower back, neck, and knees
  • Relief from osteoarthritis pain
  • Reduction of and relief from headaches and migraines

But the list is much longer for potential beneficiaries of treatment, with the World Health Organization recognizing possibilities for:

  • Uncontrolled blood pressure
  • Gastric discomfort and ailments
  • Menstrual pain and other symptoms
  • Nausea and vomiting experienced with chemotherapy
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Morning sickness
  • Sprains, sciatica, and tennis elbow
  • Reduced risk of stroke and heart disease
  • Management of dental pain
  • Smoking cessation and substance abuse
  • Fibromyalgia and neuralgia
  • Tourette syndrome

3. Benefits for patients

Acupuncture can be beneficial for any patient suffering from one of these ailments or conditions, so it’s no wonder that it’s often recommended to help multiple sclerosis patients with pain and even mood. Also, because smoking can exacerbate symptoms or lead to faster progression of the disease, using acupuncture for smoking cessation is beneficial. Other reasons this is one of the most highly recommended unproven methods of treatment include:

  • When performed by a well-trained practitioner, it is completely safe.
  • Acupuncture doesn’t present with many side effects, aside from some soreness in some cases.
  • It in no way inhibits any other sort of treatment process, traditional or alternative, and can be combined with multiple other therapy options.
  • It can be prescribed for patients who cannot, for one reason or another, take pain medication and helps all to control certain types of pain that can lead to functionality problems.

4. Symptoms acupuncture treats

While very little evidence proves most of these beyond a reasonable doubt, anecdotal tales will attest to relief and improvement in these particular areas with the use of acupuncture.

  • Reduced levels of pain throughout the body
  • Increased balance and reduced dizziness, as well as more precise motor control
  • Greater circulation and overall cardiovascular health
  • Improved vision
  • Increased energy and less fatigue or exhaustion
  • Lighter mood with fewer changes in mood
  • Reduced tingling and burning sensations
  • Greater enthusiasm
Others report desired diet change to healthier meal options, as well as getting into new hobbies and activities. These are often sparked through “behavioral” therapy with acupuncture, which some believe is a placebo effect while others swear by it. In any case, it’s still safe for those with multiple sclerosis to attend acupuncture sessions as often as they life.

5. When to avoid acupuncture

Though the practice itself is not the least bit dangerous under the care of an experienced practitioner with proper training, there are a few caveats that MS patients should keep in mind, since they have unique elements to their disease that could come into play and cause complications in the effort.

  • Patients with a bleeding disorder or who take blood thinners could be at risk and should consult a physician prior to trying acupuncture.
  • In some patients with delicate skin and blood vessels, some insertion points could bleed or bruise.
  • An experienced practitioner will always sterilize needles to avoid any risk of infection. An infection could cause exacerbation of symptoms and serious complications in MS patients. At this point, the FDA does regulate these needles as medical devices, which assists in assuring the proper equipment is used.

6. Cost of acupuncture

Because it’s so widely accepted, many insurance providers now cover the cost of acupuncture, especially if prescribed by a physician, as can be done for patients with multiple sclerosis. Sessions may be free of charge to the patient or require only the small copay of a typical doctor’s visit.

For those who have to pay out of pocket, the therapy isn’t expensive (far less than an out-of-pocket visit to a physician, in most cases), making it an affordable choice for alternative therapy.


Because there are relatively few complications with it, acupuncture offers what may be the safest and most effective benefits of any other treatment for multiple sclerosis. It won’t cure the disease or stop its progression. However, it can help patients feel better in a number of ways that can lead to a fuller, happier life. Taking advantage of every possible means of reducing the impact of symptoms is essential to building not only a healthy body but also a healthy mind, and with the assistance of treatments like acupuncture, it’s possible to maintain independence and a strong and fulfilling daily routine without interference from pain and depression.

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