Neuropathy being a very common problem, an estimated 30 million people in the United States alone suffer from some form of neuropathy, and according to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, acupuncture is a viable option for sufferers everywhere. We know as medical professionals that while many western medicine techniques may occasionally work for some, there are a plethora of those with neuropathy that do not find relief from things like over the counter medications or even surgery. Not to mention that they all come with their own set of side effects whereas acupuncture for neuropathy is virtually side-effect free.
Western Medicine Neuropathy Treatment
Neuropathy, in simplistic terms, is nerve damage which harms the peripheral nervous system not allowing those nerves to send communication from the brain to the legs, feet, muscles, skin, internal organs, and joints. It is once those nerves are damaged that pain and/or numbness can occur which is usually when we see them in our acupuncture office.
Neuropathy Symptoms Include:
- Permanent or temporary numbness
- Higher sensitivity to touch
- Pain in various extremities on the body
- Prickling, burning, or tingling in the extremities on the body
- Muscle weakness
- Impairment to sexual function and urination
These symptoms and where the nerve damage occurs is ultimately dependent on the underlying cause of the neuropathy and the type of neuropathy present.
Types of Neuropathy:
- Polyneuropathy – this is the most common type in which multiple nerves are affected including a type of polyneuropathy known as distal symmetric. This is when the nerve fibers that malfunction are distant from the central nervous system.
- Mononeuropathy – this is when there is one nerve or nerve group that is damaged usually from trauma, pressure, inflammation, and injury.
Neuropathy, in general, either develops after birth, or runs in families.
Nerve types that make up the peripheral nervous system:
- Motor – nerves that deliver messages away from the brain to the muscles governing muscle movement.
- Autonomic – nerves that are in charge of body functions that are out of the person’s control such as digestion, breathing, bladder, heart rate, and blood pressure.
- Sensory – nerves that deliver messages to the brain by way of the spinal cord such as pain, touch, and temperature.
Treatment in western medicine depends mostly on the cause. Many times, symptoms of neuropathy will improve over time when the underlying condition is treated. Western medicine physicians will many times prescribe medications to manage symptoms only and not the disease as a whole, and come along with side effects such as sedation, weight gain, paradoxical agitation, and leg swelling.
Acupuncture Treatment for Neuropathy
Acupuncture for neuropathy works by increasing and stimulating blood flow in the limbs effectively repairing the damaged nerves. Pain as a result of neuropathy, in TCM terms, is caused by a blockage of Blood and Qi with the goal of treatment being to keep the nerves active and engaged.
Neuropathy Pattern Classifications:
- Wind – damage that occurs in muscles causing stiffness, uncontrolled movement, and spasms.
- Cold – damage occurring seasonally presenting with throbbing pain when a contraction between the muscles and ligaments occurs.
- Damp – damage causing severe sharp pain, quick exhaustion, swelling, and tingling.
- Phlegm – damage leading to growth and numbness.
Our goal as acupuncture providers when treating neuropathy is to aid in nerve regeneration and preservation. We should be targeting the areas with decreased sensation to re-stimulate the nerve fibers. Stimulating blood flow with acupuncture treatment to the capillaries allows for the nerves to work more efficiently and reduce pain.
Acupuncture Points for Neuropathy:
- SJ5 – Waiguan – Outer Pass – located on the dorsal aspect of the forearm, an important point for releasing exterior Wind-Heat.
- LI11 – Quchi – Pool at the Crook – located on the lateral end of the transverse cubital crease with the elbow flexed, clears Heat, cools Blood, regulates Qi and Blood, resolves dampness, and expels exterior Wind.
- GB34 – Yanglingquan – Yang Hill Spring – located on the lateral aspect of the lower leg in the depression inferior and anterior to the head of the fibula, beneficial for the joints, moves Liver Qi, relieves pain, and benefits the joints.
- GB39 – Xuanzhong – Suspended Bell – located on the lateral aspect of the lower leg, 3 cun above the top of the external malleolus, strengthens the bones, activates the meridian, dispels Wind-Dampness, and relieves pain.
- DU14 – Dazhui – Great Vertebra – located on the posterior median line, in the depression below the spinous process of the 7th cervical vertebra, clears Heat, dispels Wind, and regulates Wei and Ying Qi.
- DU9 – Zhiyang – Reaching Yang – located on the posterior median line on the back in the depression below the spinous process of the 7th thoracic vertebra, resolves Damp-Heat, opens the chest, and regulates the Middle Jiao and Spleen.
Along with these example points, some of the patterns that may present for neuropathy would be Blood Stagnation, Lung Wind invasion-Wind Cold, Lung Wind invasion-Wind Heat, and Lung Dampness-Phlegm Cold.
Acupuncture Research for Neuropathy
There has been promising research on acupuncture for neuropathy in recent years, and each study has shown acupuncture to be effective in neuropathy treatment.
The Case for Local Needling in Successful Randomized Controlled Trials of Peripheral Neuropathy – 2019:
- This study was a follow-up on a systemic review published in 2017 which outlined acupuncture points close in proximity to the underlying nerves affected by neuropathy. The goal of this follow up study was to further explore point selection in relation to the peripheral nerves in treating neuropathy.
- The original study included 13 randomized controlled trials reviewing acupuncture for neuropathy caused by Bell’s Palsy, Diabetes, HIV, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and idiopathic causes. This study reexamined the acupuncture points used with a focus on the neuropathic condition treated.
- Results showed that acupuncture points selected in the original study were all in close proximity to each condition’s associated nerves. This study confirmed that local needling is essential for successful treatment of neuropathy.
Improvement in Acupoint Selection for Acupuncture of Nerves Surrounding the Injury Site: Electro-Acupuncture with Governor Vessel with Local Meridian Acupoints – 2015:
- The goal of this study was to compare the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture treatment at the Governor Vessel and local acupoints along with local acupoints alone in treating with peripheral nerve injury.
- Acupoints treated in the Governor Vessel/local meridian group stimulated the following acupoints:
- GV20, GV16, GV14, GV12, GV6, GV4, GV3, GV2
- GV20, GV16, GV14, GV12, GV6, GV4, GV3, GV2
- Alternatively, the local meridian group alone treated only meridian acupoints on the injured nerve were selected. Both groups used electroacupuncture for 30 minutes once a day, 5 times per week, for 6 weeks.
- Results of this study showed that functional repair after peripheral nerve injury was achieved with the combination of Governor Vessel and local meridian acupoints, and their immediate effects ensure the continuity between the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
Although more research is needed, it is safe to say that acupuncture works effectively for the treatment of neuropathy.
Neuropathy & Acupuncture
Neuropathy is a very common problem that we as acupuncturists treat on a daily basis, diabetic neuropathy being the most common with a prevalence of 60% of those with diabetes according to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. Acupuncture is a truly helpful option for sufferers of neuropathy focusing both on resolving the underlying condition, and clearing the blockages in the meridians. Being sure to communicate to neuropathy patients that in addition to regular acupuncture treatment, nutrition is an integral part of treating their neuropathy. It’s easy to see why many patients across the country see the value in acupuncture for neuropathy.