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Can acupuncture help neuropathy? (peripheral neuropathy)

Neuropathy is not a single health condition but rather a term used to describe a range of health problems involving damage to the peripheral nerves, as well as the symptoms of those issues.

Symptoms

  • temporary or permanent numbness
  • tingling sensation
  • prickling
  • burning sensation
  • increased sensitivity to touch
  • pain

Treatment of neuropathy with Acupuncture

Acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine http://schema.org/TraditionalChinese

Acupuncture is a technique used to treat pain and relieve discomfort.

The needles used in acupuncture are inserted into your body. In the Systematic Review by Dimitrova et al, the suggested mechanism of action is:

While the selected trials employed varied acupuncture regimens, they all involved acupuncture points located near peripheral nerves, such as points close to the median nerve for CTS and close to the facial nerve for Bell's palsy (Table 5). It is possible that acupuncture needles exert direct effect on an underlying nerve and peri-neural tissues, either through manual manipulation or electric current. This could explain why acupuncture appears to have an effect not only on neuropathic symptoms, but also on NCS parameters (Table 4). These effects were sustained up to 13 months in CTS and were significantly different from the control condition. Further studies are needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn about acupuncture's effect on NCS parameters in neuropathic conditions

Treating nerve damage with acupuncture, however, suffers from the same limitations as any other therapy. If the damage is already considerable there is less chance of reducing the pain and loss of sensation.

Peripheral neuropathy usually arises as a secondary manifestation of a major condition, usually Type 2 diabetes, and much of what can be achieved depends on how well controlled and managed the predominant condition is. If someone follows a healthy eating regime alongside the medications then we have seen cases where the rate of deterioration has slowed down considerably and where the symptoms have been reduced. If, however, someone continues to eat in a way which further affects the circulation and nervous system there isn't much we can do. However, we have to bear in mind that acupuncture treats the person, not simply the condition, and the determination to maintain a healthy lifestyle is often an unforeseen consequence of treatment as someone generally 'feels better in themselves'.

Chinese acupuncture is based on a theory of energy, called 'qi', and its flow and balance in the body. This can often mean that the needles used in conditions like peripheral neuropathy are often local to the problem and seen as a blockage in the flow of qi, but Chinese medicine has an elaborate understanding of the functional nature of the internal organs, understood entirely differently from in the West, and will often look at how the problem may also be a manifestation of a wider functional disturbance in the system. Then, of course, you have the underlying premise of the original Chinese medical systems which were largely asymptomatic, regarding the achievement of overall balance as the primary aim in the belief that this would deal with symptoms wherever they manifested.

Outcomes

The important element in treating peripheral neuropathy is understanding the physiological basis for its appearance in western terms and being realistic about what may be achieved. If this amounts to maintaining the status quo, or even as one very wise patient expressed it 'getting worse slower', then as long as this is the agreed basis for treatment, that is fine. Our members are trained to avoid raising unreal and unreasonable expectations in people with degenerative conditions or permanent physical damage. Talking to a BAcC member local to you face to face may be the best advice if you are considering treatment. They should be able to assess relatively quickly whether acupuncture was a worthwhile option for you.

Research

There a several studies on this subject

Acupuncture treatment improves nerve conduction in peripheral neuropathy.

  • Schröder S1, Liepert J, Remppis A, Greten JH.
  • Eur J Neurol. 2007 Mar;14(3):276-81.

The data suggest that there is a positive effect of acupuncture on PN of undefined etiology as measured by objective parameters.

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

  • Alexandra Dimitrova, MD,corresponding author Charles Murchison, MS, and Barry Oken, MD, PhD
  • J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Mar 1; 23(3): 164–179.

Acupuncture is beneficial in some peripheral neuropathies, but more rigorously designed studies using sham-acupuncture control are needed to characterize its effect and optimal use better.

A more detailed look (last updated 2015) at the research is available in our factsheet

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