Can Acupuncture Help Psoriasis?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2016. | Last updated: July 2018
What is acupuncture?
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition which causes symptoms to develop on the skin due to inflammation inside the body. Depending on the severity of their condition, people with psoriasis use treatments such as topical medicines, systemic medicines, and phototherapy to control their symptoms and manage their condition.
Acupuncture is a type of complementary/alternative therapy that is used by some people with psoriasis in addition to the treatments recommended by their healthcare provider. Before trying any type of complementary or alternative therapy, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider to make sure that it will not interact with any of the other medicines or treatments you are using1.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine, which is a different and complex practice that has been developed over the past 3000 years. Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on a holistic system of healing that focuses on a concept called the qi (pronounced “chee”) which means life force. The qi is believed to consist of the flow of energy through the patient’s body, which travels along pathways which are called meridians1.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that the qi needs to flow freely through the body and if it becomes unbalanced, then acupuncture is a way to rebalance the flow of qi. Acupuncture is administered by specialists called acupuncturists or acupuncture therapists who have several years of training.
During an acupuncture session, needles that are very tiny and thin are inserted into specific points on the patient’s body and left in place for 10-20 minutes before being removed2. Sometimes the acupuncture therapist will move the needles slightly, or the needles may have a very weak electrical current flowing through them. Most people do not feel pain when the needles are inserted, in place, or removed.
How can acupuncture help with psoriasis symptoms?
According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture works by restoring the balance of qi in the body. However, there are many acupuncture therapists outside of China who consider it a way to stimulate the muscles, tissues, and nerves in order to help improve blood flow and enhance the pain-relieving chemicals that are naturally produced by the body. These include adenosine, endorphins, and serotonin1.
There have not yet been any clinical studies about the benefits of acupuncture for people with psoriasis, but there have been large-scale studies about the use of acupuncture for other types of chronic conditions that cause pain, and acupuncture was associated with positive results2.
Although it does not work for everyone, many patients with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis report that acupuncture provides them with pain relief, symptom improvement, and can make them feel more relaxed.
What side effects can acupuncture cause?
Unlike other types of treatments for psoriasis, acupuncture generally has no serious side effects when performed by a licensed, experienced therapist who uses sterile needles. Be sure to check the credentials of your acupuncturist before being treated1.
Some people may have some soreness or tenderness where the needles are inserted. Certain people may be advised not to have acupuncture therapy, such as3:
- people with bleeding disorders
- people who have a pacemaker
- women who are pregnant
Even though your acupuncturist may be highly trained and experienced in the practice, he or she may not be an expert in psoriasis. Because it is a complex autoimmune condition, it is best for your primary healthcare provider to stay informed and involved in the acupuncture therapy process if possible.