Acupuncture for IBS: Can It Relieve Your Symptoms?
Acupuncture for IBS treatment is finding increasing acceptance among both doctors and patients. Learn how acupuncture might help to improve your IBS symptoms.
·November 6th, 2021
Acupuncture for IBS has been shown in randomized control trials to be an effective treatment, although larger and more rigorous trials need to be conducted.
Results were strongest in alleviating pain and discomfort with promising results for other symptoms.
Acupuncture for IBS is generally recommended as a complementary therapy, not an alternative for conventional IBS treatments.
Bright Belly’s acupuncturist search can help you connect with a provider who offers treatment for IBS.
If you’ve been struggling with gut health issues for what seems like forever, have you considered acupuncture for IBS? In this article, we’ll talk about why more Western healthcare providers are recommending acupuncture in addition to conventional treatments, what the research says, and why acupuncture might be the solution you’re looking for.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient practice best known in the West as part of the traditional Chinese medical practice. While there are practices outside China that may differ slightly, in general, most acupuncturists will follow the Chinese tradition.
In the Chinese tradition, practitioners use acupuncture for pain relief and often pair it with other therapies, such as herbalism. In the West, doctors and acupuncturists often work together, using Western approaches in place of the herbs.
Belief holds that the careful placement of thin needles at certain points on the body redirect qi, or circulating life force, relieving pain and other symptoms.
Scientific views of acupuncture vary. Some theorize it may stimulate the nervous system (called a somatic autonomic reflex), while others argue it encourages the release of neurotransmitters that help manage pain. Another theory is that it improves circulation.
Why might doctors recommend acupuncture for IBS?
IBS is a functional disorder, meaning it has no known structural or biochemical cause. It may even have multiple causes, which means a multi-pronged approach often works best to relieve symptoms.
As a result, what works for some IBS sufferers may not work for others, so doctors are looking for complementary therapies that are low-risk to their patients and fit in well with other components of the treatment strategy. For milder cases of IBS, in particular, doctors may take the view that it’s better to try gentler and less-invasive techniques first.
Acupuncture is viewed favorably from this angle due to its non-invasive nature. When performed with correct sterilization procedures by a board-certified acupuncturist, there’s a low risk of adverse side effects. This makes it easy to bring into a treatment plan.
This is especially true in situations where Western approaches aren’t recommended. For example, many patients take antidepressants for IBS-related depression, but they may find the side effects intolerable. Patients may also have complicating factors from other medical conditions that make antidepressants a poor choice for them.
How effective is acupuncture for IBS?
Acupuncture is considered either a complementary therapy for IBS, used along with other treatment methods, or an alternative therapy, used in place of other treatments. Western practitioners generally use it in combination with conventional treatments.
It is never a good idea to replace your conventional treatment with any alternative therapy. Always talk to your provider before discontinuing recommended treatments.
What does research say about the effectiveness of acupuncture for IBS?
In a randomized controlled trial performed in the UK, participants were assigned to a group that received acupuncture in addition to their usual treatment regimen or to a control group, who continued with their usual treatment. The group that underwent adjunctive acupuncture was found to have better symptom improvement than the control group. The improvements persisted when followed up 12 months later.
A systematic review of 27 trials that did not include blinding found that acupuncture might be considered as a second-line therapy, to be used when first-line approaches haven’t yielded results.
However, a randomized controlled trial conducted in China compared acupuncture to a placebo and an antispasmodic, pinaverium bromide. At a 12-week follow-up, researchers found the acupuncture treatment to be more effective.
Does culture play a role in the effectiveness of acupuncture?
Culture may also have a bearing on the effectiveness of the procedure. For example, a Chinesestudy found that over a third of participants with IBS-D reported a complete recovery rate.
That result has been difficult to repeat outside of China, however, and may have much to do with how the study’s participants view the procedure compared to Westerners.
It seems unlikely there will ever be a “silver bullet” for the effectiveness of any procedure or medication for IBS. While we can collect data on, for example, stool consistency and how often somebody heads to the bathroom, the bloating, discomfort, and pain of IBS are subjective.
The idea that putting pain into context might be key to treating it is becoming more common in Western medicine.
For example, the National Institutes on Health (NIH) are experimenting with a mix of physical therapy and antidepressants instead of traditional pain medication to treat lower back pain. The theory is that learning to manage the feeling of pain and preventing it from affecting quality of life matters more than not feeling pain at all.
From a patient’s perspective, this may be a key strength of acupuncture. It allows IBS sufferers to manage their discomfort, to see it through a different lens, and to use therapies like acupuncture to manage symptoms.
Where should I start with acupuncture for IBS?
Speak with your doctor and tell them you’re considering acupuncture. Discuss any underlying conditions you might have and ask them if they have any referrals or recommendations.
Search for a board-certified acupuncturist in your area. Most will have online resources discussing their approach and tradition, credentials and training, and further reading to help you understand the procedure. It’s becoming increasingly possible to find a Western doctor who is also trained in acupuncture.
Discuss your goals with your acupuncturist. Do you want to manage pain? Reduce discomfort? Attempt to remove IBS from your life completely? They will help you set expectations and review the other approaches you’re taking to ensure acupuncture is right for you.
Decide on a course of treatment, how many sessions per week over how many weeks. Depending on the severity of your IBS and other treatments you may be undergoing, your acupuncturist might recommend other complementary approaches, such as herbalism, to pair with your sessions.
When you’ve completed your treatment course, discuss with your acupuncturist what’s worked for you and develop a maintenance plan.
For more information
IBS is a challenging chronic condition that often responds best to a combination of therapies. Finding a plan that works for you will likely involve some trial and error. Let Bright Belly be your ally in your struggle for symptom relief.
To learn more about acupuncture and other complementary, integrative and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for IBS treatment, follow our blog. To find an acupuncturist near you, visit our provider directory today.