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Can Acupuncture Help Neuropathy?

Updated: Jul 19, 2023


Acupuncture and Neuropathy
Acupuncture and Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy is a condition that affects the peripheral nervous system, causing symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and nerve pain. Around 30 million people suffer from some kind of peripheral nerve issue. It can be a debilitating condition that greatly affects a person's quality of life.

While traditional treatments for neuropathy focus on managing symptoms through medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes, there has been growing interest in alternative therapies such as acupuncture. In this article, we will explore the potential benefits of acupuncture in managing neuropathy and its effectiveness based on scientific research.


Table of Contents

2. Can Acupuncture Help Neuropathy


1. What Can Produce Neuropathy?


Peripheral Neuropathy refers to damage or dysfunction of the peripheral nervous system that transmits signals between the central nervous system and the rest of the body.

This condition can be caused by various factors:

  1. Diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy, with almost 15 million cases per year. Around 70% of diabetic patients will develop some kind of peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Having high blood sugar levels for a long time will damage the small blood vessels that supply the nerves in your body; this will lead to nerve damage.

  2. Idiopathic neuropathy is the second cause of peripheral neuropathy in the US, with around 7 million cases per year. Idiopathic means unknown cause. The sensory and motor nerves of the peripheral nervous system are affected without finding any etiology.

  3. Chemo-induced neuropathy is the third cause of peripheral neuropathy. 68 % of patients using chemotherapy drugs will experience peripheral neuropathy in the first month after chemotherapy treatment.

  4. HIV-related neuropathy is the fourth cause of peripheral neuropathy. The HIV virus and some of the medications used produce general inflammation, which may produce nerve damage and may produce peripheral neuropathy symptoms. The prevalence increases with more advanced cases.

  5. Other causes of peripheral neuropathy include traumatic injuries, autoimmune diseases like Guillain-Barré syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis, and some medications like Allopurinol (to treat uric acid), Amiodarone (heart arrhythmias) or Amitriptyline (for depression disorders).


Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral Neuropathy

2. Can Acupuncture Help Neuropathy?


Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice that involves the insertion of thin acupuncture needles into specific points on the body.

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine are used in pain clinics with increasing popularity and are gaining acceptance among the U.S. public and academic community.

According to Traditional Chinese medicine, neuropathies are due to poor blood flow that is not able to nourish the tissues, and this can be due to metabolic problems, infections, inflammations, toxins, etc.

We use acupuncture needles to stimulate blood flow properly and activate nerve regeneration, relieve nerve pain and promote the normal function of peripheral nerves.

Then we use Chinese Herbal Medicine to enhance the effect of acupuncture, correct metabolic problems, reduce or eliminate infections, reduce nerve painful sensory symptoms, and correct nerve damage with the aim of reversing peripheral neuropathy.


3. Why does it work?

Can acupuncture help neuropathy? Yes, acupuncture stimulates the nervous system function through various mechanisms. The insertion of needles at specific acupuncture points is thought to stimulate nerve endings, promoting the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters. This can help reduce pain, improve circulation, and enhance the body's natural healing processes.


Blood Flow:

Acupuncture is known to stimulate blood flow. This is fundamental to promote any healing or regeneration in the organism because healthy blood contains any materials the body needs to repair itself, like oxygen, all the nutrients we get from our food like proteins, fats, amino acids, etc., anti-inflammatory substances, hormones, the best pain killers that exist in nature, white blood cells to fight infections, etc.

.Restoring proper blood flow is essential to promoting and maintaining health.

This is vital to the treatment of peripheral neuropathy.


Blood flow and acupuncture


Nerve Function:

One acupuncture treatment activates nerve conduction and stimulates the central nervous system releasing chemicals into the blood vessels to nourish the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. In this way, it promotes y stimulates the body's natural capacity to heal itself and promote physical and emotional balance.

There is a number of studies that have demonstrated that acupuncture can regulate blood pressure, pupil size, skin conductance, skin temperature, and heart rate, thanks to the stimulation of the autonomic nerves.


Acupuncture study on nervous system

Promote Healthy Organ Function:

With the stimulation of the autonomic nerves, acupuncture can stimulate the proper functions of the internal organs.

A well-trained licensed acupuncturist is able to choose the right acupuncture points combination to stimulate the proper function of any organ system, like Gastro Intestinal, respiratory, urinary, cardiovascular, hormonal, etc.

It has been used for more than 2000 years to treat almost any kind of disease, not just nerve pain or traumatic injuries.


acupuncture regulates GI system





4. Research Studies on Acupuncture for Neuropathic Pain


Several research studies have examined the effectiveness of acupuncture in managing neuropathy symptoms, and many studies have shown promising outcomes. When performed by a trained and licensed acupuncturist, acupuncture is generally considered safe with minimal side effects. The most common side effects include mild bruising, bleeding, or soreness at the needle insertion sites. It is essential to choose a reputable acupuncturist who follows proper hygiene and safety protocols.

There are many studies like randomized controlled or mata-analysis studies done to understand the effect of acupuncture treatment on peripheral neuropathy; here we can see a small example:


- Acupuncture for the Treatment of Peripheral Neuropathy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

- Effect of Acupuncture on Diabetic Neuropathy: A Narrative Review

- Fifteen-day Acupuncture Treatment Relieves Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

- Effect of Acupuncture vs Sham Acupuncture Procedure on Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy SymptomsA Randomized Clinical Trial



5. How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Work?


Chinese Medicine

When seeking acupuncture treatment for peripheral neuropathy, it is important to understand how Traditional Chinese Medicine works. This medicine aims to improve your overall health, the goal is to balance your organism, and then you will regenerate and overcome any symptom or disease.

The biggest difference with Western medicine is that TCM focuses on the root of the problem rather than on symptomatic management. Even if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle weakness, autoimmune diseases, or other nerve pain, TCM focuses on finding your constitutional weakness and helping you balance yourself, so your own body can recuperate or reduce its symptoms.


Etiology

- External Pathogens:

According to TCM theory, peripheral neuropathy symptoms usually is caused by the invasion of external pathogens, like "wind-damp" and "damp-heat." When Wind is more predominant, symptoms like tingling and pins and needles pain would be predominant. When Dampness is more predominant, we would see more sensory nerve damage, numbness, and muscle weakness.


- Qi and Blood Deficiency:

A poor diet or any other factor like overwork or hemorrhage can weaken the Spleen and reduce the amount of Qi and Blood available to nourish the nervous system, which may lead to peripheral neuropathy.


- Yin Deficiency:

Yin deficiency may lead to dryness and malnourishment of the nerves, especially affecting the sensory nerves. Usually can also produce an ascent of Yang, where we can see a burning sensation.


- Phlegm:

Weakness of the Lung, Kidney, or Spleen can congeal the fluids and produce "phlegm," impeding the circulation of Qi and Blood and producing peripheral neuropathy due to malnourishment of the nervous system.


- Blood Stasis:

In TCM theory, Blood stasis may produce numbness and paresthesia, affecting the primary sensory nerves. It can be produced by Liver qi constriction, phlegm, dampness, yang deficiency, etc.


- Nerve Compression:

A patient with a brain and spinal cord compression due to a bone spur, disc herniation, or other cause may be diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. Patients may have issues like carpal tunnel syndrome or other motor nerves or sensory nerve conditions.



Treatments:

In order to treat peripheral neuropathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine uses acupuncture and herbal medicine to reduce nerve pain.


- Acupuncture Treatment:

According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture is used in 183 countries, and multiple clinical studies have verified its efficacy in different applications. Acupuncture for neuropathy works by activating peripheral afferent nerves, transmitting sensory information from the spinal cord to the brain, where all the information is integrated.

Your acupuncturist can choose between electro-acupuncture or manual acupuncture to treat your peripheral neuropathy.


- Herbal Medicine:


Chinese medicine herbs

Chinese herbal medicine is widely used in many countries to treat all kinds of peripheral neuropathy.

In this study, we can see that Huangqi Guizhi Wuwu Decoction is safe and effective in treating nerve pain in patients with Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy.

Even some studies suggest that Chinese herbal formulas can be more effective and with fewer side effects than pharmaceutical medications in the treatment of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy nerve pain.

Also, for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy patients, we know that Chinese herbs can improve clinical symptoms and quality of life in these patients, as we see in this meta-analysis.



6. Integrating Acupuncture into Your Treatment Plan


To integrate acupuncture into your neuropathy treatment plan, start by discussing your options with your healthcare provider. They can provide guidance on how acupuncture can be incorporated alongside other therapies. Regular communication between your acupuncturist and healthcare team is vital to ensure coordinated care and monitor your progress.



7. Finding the Right Acupuncturist for You


Acupuncture holds promise as a complementary therapy for managing neuropathy symptoms, and it can provide pain relief, improve nerve function, and enhance overall well-being. However, it is important to work with a qualified acupuncturist to ensure safe and effective treatment.

At Soul Acupuncture & Herbal, we have more than 20 years of experience treating all kinds of patients, and we have an intense background in treating peripheral neuropathy symptoms, diabetic neuropathy, muscle weakness, autoimmune diseases, etc.


 



FAQs

Q1: Is acupuncture a painful procedure? Acupuncture is generally well-tolerated and rarely causes significant pain. Most people report feeling minimal discomfort during the insertion of the needles.

Q2: How many acupuncture sessions are required to see results? The number of acupuncture sessions needed to see results can vary depending on the individual and the severity of their neuropathy. Typically, a course of treatment may involve several weekly sessions over a few months.

Q3: Can acupuncture cure neuropathy? Normally peripheral neuropathy can't be cured with Western medicine, but compared with regular care, acupuncture can offer a significant improvement in peripheral neuropathy symptoms.

Q4: Is acupuncture covered by insurance for peripheral neuropathy treatment? Most insurance plans may cover acupuncture for neuropathy treatment, but it is recommended to check with your insurance provider to determine your coverage.

Q5: Are there any contraindications for acupuncture in neuropathy? Acupuncture is generally safe for neuropathy patients. However, individuals with bleeding disorders or those taking blood-thinning medications should consult with their healthcare provider before undergoing acupuncture.


Eduardo Velasco Valido

AP, LAc

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