Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine; it involves the therapist inserting sterile, disposable ultra-fine metal needles into carefully chosen points on the body. It is commonly used to reduce pain and stiffness. In particular, with people with Parkinson's it is also used to relieve digestive ailments (such as constipation), insomnia, depression and anxiety.
Acupuncturists traditionally believe that energy (Qi, pronounced 'Chi') flows around the body through channels. These channels can get blocked as a result of physical and emotional factors (such as anxiety and stress, poor nutrition, infections or trauma) which results in ill health and imbalances. Stimulating the acupuncture points with needles is thought by many to stimulate nerves and muscles which in turn releases these blockages, restores energy flow and triggers healing.
How can it help in Parkinson's?
Anecdotal evidence suggests acupuncture can improve some Parkinson’s symptoms including tremor, walking difficulties, rigidity and pain. There is increasing evidence1,2 that acupuncture may help with non-motor symptoms3,4, such as sleep problems5 and anxiety.
Many people find that acupuncture increases energy levels, induces relaxation, improves appetite, mood and sleep, as well as an overall sense of wellbeing. There is also evidence that acupuncture reduces stress levels through the release of endorphins.
The effectiveness of acupuncture in relieving pain has been conclusively demonstrated and is now acknowledged worldwide. A national expert panel of the United States National Institutes of Health concluded in 1998 that there is clear evidence that needle acupuncture treatment is more effective and has fewer side effects for certain symptoms than conventional treatments.6
Carers may also benefit from increased energy levels, improved sleep, enhanced relaxation, and an overall sense of wellbeing. An acupuncture session can be an ideal time to switch off and relax.
What should I expect at an appointment?
Acupuncture is not regulated in many countries. It is therefore a good idea to ask your doctor or other healthcare professional for recommendations. Friends, family, other people with Parkinson’s or your national Parkinson’s association may also be able to advise based on personal experience.
It is advisable to see a therapist who has experience of Parkinson’s so do ask about their experience of the condition as well as their qualifications.
Your first consultation may take longer than subsequent appointments as your acupuncturist will first need to discuss your symptoms, take a medical history and assess your overall state of health.
The acupuncturist is trained to feel the pulse at each wrist and to look at your tongue; he or she may palpate parts of your body. The quality and rhythm of each pulse indicates how energy (or ‘Chi’) is flowing in your body. This helps the therapist to understand which energy lines need treating for your specific complaint to improve, as well as enhancing your overall energy and vitality. He or she should explain their diagnosis, their proposed treatment plan and what changes you may expect over a given period of time.
What to wear
Loose, comfortable clothing should be worn allowing the acupuncturist to access points on your torso as well as on your feet, hands, arms, legs and face.
Is it safe?
Make sure that your acupuncturist uses only disposable needles to reduce any risk of infection.
You may feel some bruising, bleeding or tenderness but this is usually brief. You may also feel slightly drowsy but this is not common.
Will it hurt?
Most people do not find acupuncture painful, although others claim it is not totally painless either! Fortunately acupuncture needles bear little resemblance to those used for injections or blood tests. They are much finer, and when inserted produce a tingling sensation or dull ache. Needles may be inserted into the body, scalp and ears. They may be left in place just for 30 minutes or more, depending on the desired effect.
To assist with the insertion, some acupuncturists use a smouldering herb (Moxa or Artemesia Vulgaris) to warm the acupuncture points. If a patient dislikes needles, lasers, massage or acupressure may be used.
Although there are around 500 acupuncture points throughout the body, an experienced acupuncturist may use no more than around 12 in any one treatment. In subsequent treatments different points may be selected as your condition changes. Interestingly, an acupuncture point may not be situated near to the organ to be treated – for example, someone suffering from headaches may receive treatment on a point on their foot or hand!
How long will it take?
A course of treatment, as opposed to a single session, is normally recommended and any improvements in your condition should become apparent after four to six treatments.
We would like to thank Hanya Chayla (LSE Treatment Clinic, London, UK) for her help in reviewing this information.
- Acupuncture for motor symptom improvement in Parkinson's disease and the potential identification of responders to acupuncture treatment – research paper
- Evidence for the Use of Acupuncture in Treating Parkinson's Disease: Update of Information From the Past 5 Years, a Mini Review of the Literature – research paper
- Randomized, Controlled Trial of Acupuncture for Fatigue in Parkinson's Disease – research paper
- Acupuncture Alleviated the Nonmotor Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease including Pain, Depression, and Autonomic Symptoms – research paper
- Acupuncture as Adjuvant Therapy for Sleep Disorders in Parkinson’s Disease – research paper
- World Health Organisation (WHO) Executive Board EB111/9, 111th Session 12 December 2002