Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that comes from ancient, Chinese medicine. An acupuncturist inserts fine needles upon specific points of the body, with the aim of stimulating and balancing the flow of energy. There is some evidence that acupuncture could help to alleviate the symptoms of both Raynaud’s and scleroderma.
There appears to be some evidence that acupuncture could help to alleviate the symptoms of both Raynaud's and scleroderma; and not all of this is anecdotal. Certain therapeutic benefits have been recorded in people living with scleroderma; and acupuncture was even hailed as a reasonable treatment for Raynaud's by one study.
Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that comes from ancient, Chinese medicine. An acupuncturist inserts fine needles upon specific points of the body, with the aim of stimulating and balancing the flow of energy to promote healing and wellbeing.
Traditional Chinese acupuncture is based upon the premise that Qi (pronounced chee), an energy or life force, flows around the body, along pathways called meridians. Meridians are linked directly to the internal organs and connect the acupuncture points where needles are placed during treatment.
Acupuncture is believed to improve wellbeing by stimulating and restoring this flow of Qi around the body. When the body is healthy, Qi flows smoothly; however when this is interrupted or the Qi cannot flow properly, ill-health may result. Acupuncture is a complementary therapy, that is not intended to replace prescribed medications but can be used alongside them. As ever, always consult your doctor before trying anything new.
Acupuncture is already used to treat rheumatic diseases with some reported success; although the true extent of any potential benefits are not fully understood, and there is still comparatively little published data in relation to either scleroderma or Raynaud's. Several small-scale studies have however documented certain possible benefits for people with systemic sclerosis, including relating to digital ulcers, respiratory function, fatigue and skin thickening.
Positive outcomes have also been recorded in Raynaud's cases, including improved localised circulation and reduced inflammation. One study from Germany described traditional Chinese acupuncture as a reasonable alternative treatment for patients with primary Raynaud's, after the majority of participants experienced significant improvement
Although this is a holistic therapy believed to restore balance within the body, acupuncture can also take a targeted approach, based upon the premise that the process of self-healing can be guided to where it is needed, according to where the needles are placed. For the treatment of autoimmune conditions where the immune system is overactive, needles can be placed with the aim of triggering or enhancing the body's natural ability to self-heal. For example, A study from 2014 treated scleroderma patients with gastro-intestinal involvement by using a TENS machine on specific acupuncture points, with favourable results.
Acupuncture is also widely-used to treat chronic pain, which is thought to be partly due to the stimulation of the body's own natural pain relief. Needles can also be placed upon local trigger points, such as on the hands, with the aim of relieving Raynaud's pain. As well as treating pain points directly, needles can also target the meridians, with the aim of helping to restore the flow of energy. Although more research is needed, the evidence does appear positive and for some people acupuncture could be well worth a try. Before you begin. talk to your practitioner about your condition and the different ways that this affects your life, since this may help them to understand scleroderma and possibly tailor your treatment to maximise any benefit that you may feel afterwards. Acupuncture is sometimes available on the NHS, however in practice people often pay privately for treatment. A session could last from 15 minutes to around one hour depending on your practitioner and in general, a course of several treatments is thought to be more beneficial than one single session.
With special thanks to Lorna Withers of Essex Acupuncture, for her help and support in producing this article.