Electroacupuncture vs. Acupuncture for IBS: What’s the Difference?
Learn the difference between electroacupuncture and acupuncture for IBS and whether one of the two might help with your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
·November 6th, 2021
Acupuncture and electroacupuncture have both been shown to be effective for IBS and other gut motility disorders.
Electroacupuncture isn’t recommended for people with certain conditions or assistive devices but is otherwise generally viewed as safe.
When considering acupuncture for IBS or electroacupuncture, which you choose will depend upon the practitioner you’re working with and your comfort level.
Bright Belly’s practitioner search can help you find a good fit.
The differences between acupuncture and electroacupuncture can be confusing for people who are just beginning to explore complementary therapies. We’ll take a look at how acupuncture for IBS and electroacupuncture for IBS work, the evidence that they can help people with irritable bowel syndrome and other gut motility disorders, and which might be right for you.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the practice of stimulating the body using fine needles placed at specific acupressure points. The needles are then stimulated with the hands. It’s usually considered part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), yet there are other cultures that have used acupuncture. It may even predate Chinese culture.
Still, acupuncturists outside the TCM tradition are relatively rare, although they’re becoming more common.
The Eastern theory behind acupuncture is that the placement of the needles stimulates qi, natural energy flowing through the body. Many Western researchers believe the needles could stimulate circulation or trigger a neurological response, but to date, studies have not been done to prove these theories.
What is electroacupuncture?
Electroacupuncture follows the same principles as acupuncture, with a few key differences. First, needles are used in pairs to circulate current. Then, an electrode is attached to the needles to stimulate the body more precisely. The needles can create a slight hum that may feel pleasant or energizing.
Sessions are usually shorter than with manual acupuncture, as it’s believed the electrode offers more precise stimulation over a wider area of the body.
Is electroacupuncture safe?
While electroacupuncture is considered safe for most people, it is generally not recommended for the following people:
Those with specific chronic conditions such as epilepsy or cardiovascular disease
Those who are at risk for seizures
People who have pacemakers, insulin pumps, or other electronic medical devices
How do I know if acupuncture or electroacupuncture is a good treatment for me?
Whether or not acupuncture is a good treatment for you will depend on your personal needs, your goals, and the practitioner you choose. Most of the evidence points to any form of acupuncture for IBS being effective for pain and discomfort.
However, some practitioners have reported more comprehensive results, as you’ll see in the research addressed below.
Doctors will generally encourage patients to try acupuncture because when performed with proper sterilization techniques by a trained acupuncturist, it’s non-invasive and generally viewed as safe.
Electroacupuncture may give them more pause due to the involvement of electricity, but in most cases, it, too, is seen as safe and non-invasive.
Both acupuncture and electroacupuncture tend to be gentler on the system and often less costly than other approaches, such as antispasmodics or antidepressants. They can also be less stressful than other treatments with fewer side effects, and limiting stress is key to symptom control with IBS.
What does the research say about electroacupuncture or acupuncture for IBS?
While work remains to be done, both acupuncture and electroacupuncture have shown promise under peer review.
The hunt for an explanation as to why it might work is ongoing, although there have been some early results with electroacupuncture that point toward stimulation of the gut-brain axis. However, there are two caveats that researchers have offered.
The first is that more study is needed before researchers can make a definitive statement about medical efficacy. The direction of the research is promising, but scientists are naturally cautious.
Secondly, the precise mechanism behind why acupuncture works for IBS is unclear. Part of this is that many gut-motility disorders are functional, which means they’re not caused by body chemistry or anatomy, so they have no single clear cause.
There are plenty of theories, including autoimmune issues, neurological concerns, and even psychological, but until we know the causes, we won’t know why the solutions work.
That said, because acupuncture is non-invasive and won’t interfere with modern medical approaches to gut-motility disorders, even the most skeptical doctor will generally sign off on giving it a try. There’s low risk and potential for high reward.
Which is right for my IBS, electroacupuncture or acupuncture?
Setting aside the specific medical advice for electroacupuncture that we’ve already discussed, this is a question of your comfort level and what an acupuncturist recommends.
If you’re unsettled about the idea of small amounts of electrical current running through your body, then you should continue with traditional acupuncture.
If you’re new to acupuncture, try a traditional session or series with a practitioner who can do both, and see how you feel. Your acupuncturist may also have some thoughts about whether electroacupuncture is right for you.
Easing into any therapy at a pace you’re comfortable with makes it more likely to be a success.
Not sure where to find an acupuncturist for IBS? Bright Belly can help. Visit our provider directory to find acupuncture practitioners near you.
To learn more about these and other integrative, complementary and alternative therapies, follow our blog for trustworthy, evidence-based information.