Acupuncture may help relieve hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms by rebalancing the body’s energy pathways and supporting natural healing, but the evidence behind it is largely anecdotal.

Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), also known as acne inversa, is a persistent inflammatory skin condition characterized by painful nodules, abscesses, and draining tunnels. These often develop in regions where skin friction is common, such as the armpits, groin, and beneath the breasts.

Since conventional treatments like antibiotics have their limitations and potential side effects, some people with HS turn to complementary and alternative medicine for potential relief.

Chinese medicine practices can provide a unique perspective on HS, recognizing it as a disorder that disrupts specific energy pathways within the body, particularly affecting the spleen, liver, and kidney meridians. This disruption contributes to the accumulation of heat, dampness, and toxins.

Acupuncture aims to address these imbalances, with the ultimate goal of increasing circulation and reducing inflammation while facilitating the body’s innate healing mechanisms.

While some people with hidradenitis suppurativa have explored acupuncture as an alternative therapy, there’s limited scientific evidence to support its effectiveness in treating HS.

A 2023 systematic research review didn’t find significant pain improvement for people with HS who underwent battlefield acupuncture (BFA), a type of ear acupuncture initially used in military and Veterans’ Administration healthcare settings.

Other research has found acupuncture can help improve symptoms of acne and certain skin diseases. But the research did not focus on HS.

More research is coming to specifically assess the effectiveness of BFA in people with HS.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), HS is seen as a condition rooted in the body’s struggle to detoxify and promote tissue healing, often linked to a deficiency in “yang” energy responsible for warmth and activity.

To address HS, TCM practitioners may turn to “Wen-tong” or “Heshi Santong” therapy, which involves needling acupuncture. The acupuncture needles are strategically inserted to create a sensation and generate heat within the body.

This sensation and heat are believed to stimulate the body’s vital energy (Qi) and enhance its resistance to external factors contributing to the condition.

Needle placement can vary, but common points often include those along the spleen, liver, and kidney meridians associated with the organs and body systems relevant to HS.

For instance, spleen meridian points may help with dampness and toxin elimination. This is thought to relieve HS symptoms by promoting Qi flow and improving blood circulation in affected areas.

Side effects of acupuncture may include:

  • pain or discomfort during needle insertion
  • bruising or bleeding
  • infection
  • dizziness or fainting
  • soreness
  • rare adverse events, including extremely rare complications like nerve damage or organ puncture

More alternative treatments for hidradenitis suppurativa may include:

  • Ayurveda: A form of holistic medicine that includes dietary modifications, herbal remedies, and detoxification practices to balance the body’s doshas and address inflammation.
  • Chinese herbal medicine: Herbal formulas that are tailored to address underlying imbalances.
  • Cupping therapy: A therapy that uses suction cups to enhance circulation and reduce pain.
  • Moxibustion: A type of TCM, moxibustion involves burning dried mugwort near acupuncture points for healing.
  • Dietary therapy: This therapy emphasizes specific foods based on your TCM diagnosis.
  • Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy uses essential oils with anti-inflammatory properties to help relieve HS symptoms.
  • Lifestyle recommendations: Stress reduction and exercise guidance are some types of lifestyle changes you can do.
  • Emotional and psychological support: Stress management techniques and counseling may benefit your overall health.
  • Homeopathy: Homeopathic remedies are customized to a person’s specific symptoms and constitution to stimulate the body’s self-healing mechanisms.
  • Nutritional supplements: Certain supplements, such as zinc, vitamin D, and curcumin, may be used for their potential to reduce inflammation in HS.
  • Balneotherapy: This therapy includes the use of therapeutic baths, such as saltwater baths or mud baths, to relieve HS symptoms.

Acupuncture, an ancient practice designed to harmonize Qi and activate the body’s innate healing powers, offers a promising avenue for anyone seeking alternative relief from HS.

While existing scientific evidence is limited and more rigorous research is needed, anecdotal reports and some research suggest it has potential benefits in managing pain and inflammation associated with HS.

With more research, acupuncture could become a valuable addition to HS management, offering a holistic approach to address both physical and mental aspects of this challenging condition.