Evidence to Support Acupuncture for MS Treatment
The good news is that many MS patients report remarkable relief with regular acupuncture sessions; the bad news is there isn’t much scientific proof to back that up. While some studies have focused on the effectiveness of acupuncture, most haven’t been well controlled, and the analysis has been inadequate.
A few studies point to extremely successful cases of MS patients who received scalp acupuncture. Some report that the numbness, tingling, burning, mobility issues, and bladder incontinence was significantly reduced almost right away. While this is certainly wonderful news for these patients, it’s important not to expect that it will be the case for everyone – especially when there’s no firm explanation behind it.
Since there’s a lack of scientific evidence and documentation, acupuncture is considered an alternative treatment; when it’s used alongside with your regular MS medication regime, it’s considered a complementary therapy. Many doctors agree that, while it’s too risky as a first line of defense, incorporating acupuncture into your MS routine may help ease symptoms like pain, muscle spasms, and bladder control issues.
Risks, Precautions and Side Effects
Before you sign up for a month’s worth of sessions, consider if and how acupuncture will benefit you. Some aspects of the therapy could put you at risk, and it’s important to understand how to counter that risk before you begin:
- Infection. Perhaps the biggest risk is with needle contamination, which could transfer an infection or disease to the patient (namely, hepatitis or HIV).The only way to prevent against possible transmission is for the acupuncturist to use fresh, sterile, and disposable needles. Reputable acupuncture therapists should have a spotless track record, and be willing to demonstrate the cleanliness of their operation before they begin.
- Immune suppression. Ultimately, acupuncture aims to improve immunity by helping the body regain its healthy, natural function. However, results of studies have been mixed when it comes to immune function: some research suggests that immunity is enhanced in patients with immune-compromised illnesses like cancer and lupus, but other studies show no change, or in some cases, an inhibiting effect. Given that MS involves an overactive immune response, it’s important to weigh these possibilities.
- Pain and irritation. About 10% of acupuncture patients will experience fairly minor side effects, like bleeding, bruising, or pain at the site of the needle. Those who are particularly anxious may feel lightheaded, even faint or vomit, but that could be due to the thought of the procedure rather than the procedure itself. Very rarely, the needle can pierce a major organ, or in the case of scalp acupuncture, cause nerve or brain damage.
The benefits of acupuncture for MS are not guaranteed, but there are some reasons to try out this natural multiple sclerosis treatment – as long as your doctor gives you the OK. For one, it can be cheaper and less invasive than other treatments, and while it’s not a replacement for medication, you may find it more helpful than some other physical therapies.
But just as you look to your doctor for advice and guidance, the most important aspect of any acupuncture treatment is your acupuncturist. Do your research, gather references, and conduct brief interviews before you decide which professional to trust with your health.