The Benefits of Acupuncture for Peripheral Neuropathy

Published on April 19, 2022

Acupuncture for neuropathy

Acupuncture is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that shows numerous benefits for peripheral neuropathy. Whether caused by diabetes, chemotherapy, or other factors, neuropathy can be extremely painful. Many neuropathy sufferers fail to find relief in pharmaceutical medications and turn to alternative and natural medicines like acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, foot massages, or cannabidiol.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles through the skin at strategic points of the body to stimulate the body’s healing process. For patients with neuropathy, it helps re-stimulate damaged nerves, regenerate the nerves’ sensitivity, boost blood circulation, and considerably reduce the pain. 

With very few side effects and limited risks, acupuncture may help you fight neuropathy pain where medications have failed. It is at least definitely worth the try. So here’s all you need to know before trying acupuncture for neuropathy!

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What exactly is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and involves the insertion of  thin needles through the skin at various strategic points of the body. 

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the Qi (pronounced “Chee”) is the energy flow through our body that is responsible for overall health. Diseases and chronic pains are believed to be caused by a disruption of the Qi. Acupuncture aims to rebalance the Qi by inserting needles to stimulate acupuncture points along the energy-carrying channels of the body called the meridians.  

Acupuncture is not yet fully recognized by Western medicine. While its ability to treat illnesses and diseases is quite controversial, its benefits to reduce and manage chronic pain are a lot more acknowledged. According to Western medicine which does not believe in the Qi, acupuncture helps stimulate the nerves, muscles, and connective tissues to boost the body’s natural painkillers production (mainly endorphins). It changes the body’s response to pain and can considerably reduce the pain sensations. 

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How does acupuncture help neuropathy? 

Chinese medicine has been using acupuncture to treat chronic nerve pain for centuries. Though scientific research from the Western world is still limited, recent studies have shown numerous benefits of acupuncture for neuropathy.

A 2007 clinical trial conducted by S. Schroder from the Heidelberg School of Chinese Medicine in Germany has shown that “acupuncture treatment improves nerve conduction in peripheral neuropathy“. The results were clear: 76% of the patients who received acupuncture therapy reported a decrease of neuropathy symptoms, against 15% only from the control group (patients who received medical care without acupuncture).

In 2017, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a US-based peer-reviewed medical journal, published a Meta-Analysis including 15 studies called Acupuncture for the Treatment of Peripheral Neuropathy. It concludes that while more studies are needed to optimize its use, acupuncture is beneficial for peripheral neuropathy. 

6 benefits of acupuncture for neuropathy

Whether caused by diabetes, chemotherapy, or other factors, peripheral neuropathy is a painful condition that manifests itself through several symptoms including sharp pain, cramps, numbness, burning sensation, tingling, pricking, or others. 

Many neuropathy sufferers fail to find relief with pharmaceutical medications and turn to alternative treatments such as acupuncture. Acupuncture therapy offers numerous benefits for peripheral neuropathy including:

  • Reduces the pain
  • Re-stimulates damaged nerve fibers
  • Prevents nerve fibres from dying off
  • Boosts blood circulation
  • Stimulates the body’s nerve pathways
  • Regenerates the nerves’ sensitivity
If many patients have found acupuncture to considerably improve their neuropathy symptoms over time, it does not work for everyone. But according to Mathew Kulas, an acupuncturist at Henry Ford Health Center, “anyone with peripheral neuropathy should try acupuncture to get relief, particularly if medications and other strategies haven’t worked.” He also specifies that most people need multiple weekly sessions for 6 to 10 weeks before they notice improvement. 

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Risks of acupuncture treatment for neuropathy

Acupuncture is generally accepted as a safe treatment and has very few and mild side effects if performed by a competent certified professional who uses sterile needles. Minor pain, discomfort, or light bleeding can occur at the needle sites. If not performed properly, the needles could injure an organ or cause an infection if not sterilized. 

Warning: peripheral neuropathy is a serious condition that can lead to severe complications. Always ask for your doctor’s advice before starting acupuncture treatment for neuropathy. Acupuncture may be contra-indicated if you have bleeding disorders, heart issues, or if you’re pregnant. 

Can acupuncture cause nerve damage?

Nerve damage is very rare but it’s one of acupuncture’s possible complications. The acupuncturist inserts thin needles through your skin over acupuncture points. The acupuncture points lie over muscles, organs, and sometimes over the nerves. If the needle is inserted too deep, at the wrong angle, or if it breaks off, it can damage a nerve. Licensed acupuncturists are trained to avoid this kind of complication.

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Does Medicare cover acupuncture for neuropathy?

No. Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover acupuncture for neuropathy. It clearly states on its website that: “Medicare doesn’t cover acupuncture (including dry needling) for any condition other than chronic low back pain.” Some private medical insurances might cover acupuncture for peripheral neuropathy. Medicare coverage for diabetic neuropathy is limited to hospital services, medications, physical therapy, surgery, foot exams, eye exams, and therapeutic footwear.

Acupuncture Vs. Acupressure?

Acupuncture and acupressure are similar alternative treatments from traditional Chinese medicine. They both focus on the Qi, the body’s flow of energy. While acupuncture uses the insertion of thin needles through the skin, acupressure is less invasive and needle-free. It exclusively involves applying pressure on strategic points of the body. Acupressure has also been proven to help relieve nerve pain and neuropathy symptoms in many patients. 


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