Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice where certain points of the body are stimulated, usually with thin needles. This practice has been used for thousands of years. It’s based on restoring the balance of your body’s chi (pronounced chee) to restore and maintain health.
ED, or erectile dysfunction, occurs when a man cannot get or hold an erection for sexual intercourse. ED has a number of causes including medical or physical, and psychological or emotional. It can also be a side effect of some medications.
Can acupuncture help treat ED?
Research into the use of acupuncture to treat ED is limited, and the studies so far have been small. These studies have primarily focused on patients with ED caused by psychological, rather than medical or physical, issues. However, some results seem hopeful in the effectiveness of acupuncture for psychological ED.
In one study, participants were tested in two groups. One group had acupuncture in the specific acupressure spots for ED. (For ED treatment, acupuncture needles are placed along the abdomen, hands, and legs.) The control group was given acupuncture in other areas of the body. About two-thirds of those in the group getting the ED treatment showed signs of improvement of their ED symptoms compared to the control group.
Some in the control group were allowed to “cross over” and receive the ED treatments as well. Several of those patients also showed improvement of ED symptoms.
Other studies have had mixed results. The studies done indicate that there may be some effectiveness in acupuncture treatment of ED with psychological and emotional causes, but more studies need to be done.
How does it work?
Acupuncture is believed to work by stimulating your nerves, which release hormones, which then increase your threshold of pain. It may also increase the circulation of blood, help regulate blood sugar, and create other health benefits.
Energy pathways through the body allow chi (energy) to flow and heal. Practitioners of Chinese medicine describe acupuncture as a way to unblock pathways and allow subtle healing. However, it is not known exactly how the technique works.
As new emerging technology examining energy flows emerges, we will better understand the theories of energy flow.
The traditional Chinese method of using needles is the primary type of acupuncture that’s been studied for treating ED. It is thought that the release of hormones and increased blood circulation is what helps those with ED.
The benefits of acupuncture for ED are focused on psychological ED. There haven’t been any tests or studies to speak of showing that acupuncture can help ED caused by a medical condition, an injury, or as a medication side effect.
Even the benefits on psychological ED are small and haven’t been studied widely. More research on how acupuncture works in the treatment of ED is needed to prove its effectiveness.
General guidelines for acupuncture
It’s important to find a qualified acupuncture specialist if you’re considering acupuncture for ED or any other condition. They should be licensed or registered by your state. Check your state requirements online before visiting an acupuncturist. Some medical doctors also utilize acupuncture as part of their medical practice.
Check with your health insurance company and ask if they cover acupuncture treatments. Some insurance companies will cover at least a part of the cost.
The number of treatments you need depends on the severity of your condition. However, one study used the time frame of four weeks with treatments twice each week. Your practitioner should be able to give you a better idea of how many treatments you’ll need and how often.
There’s no specific preparation for acupuncture, but ask your practitioner if they recommend any type of preparation when you make your appointment.
risks of acupuncture
As with any treatment, acupuncture does have risks, but the frequency of adverse effects is low. Be sure to see a qualified acupuncturist. If you receive the treatment from someone who isn’t qualified, risks can include:
- punctured organs
- nerve damage
Make sure your practitioner is certified, uses disposable needles, and follows FDA guidelines for needle disposal and sterilization.
Other alternative treatments
A number of other treatments have been proven effective for various causes of ED. Depending on the cause of your ED, making some lifestyle changes may be a good first step. These can include:
- maintaining a healthy weight
- quitting smoking
- exercising regularly
- limiting alcohol use
Your doctor may also recommend medication. The medication you take depends on the cause of your ED. Some of these medications include:
- Viagra (sildenafil)
Your doctor may recommend counseling as part of your treatment plan, especially if your ED is caused by depression, fear, or other psychological issues.
There are also surgical options that can help ED caused by physical injury or other physical reasons. Your doctor will usually try other treatments first before recommending surgery.
to see your doctor
You should see your doctor to determine the cause of your ED before seeking out acupuncture. If it’s caused by an illness, injury, or even depression, your doctor should be your first stop. Sometimes they can also be a good source for finding a qualified acupuncturist.
After receiving acupuncture, contact your doctor if you notice any signs of an infection in the area of the treatment or have any pain in or around the area.
Some acupuncturists may recommend herbs as a part of their treatment. If this is the case, consult your doctor before taking any herb or supplement as they can adversely affect some medications or medical conditions.
More research in the effectiveness of acupuncture on ED is needed. The risks associated with acupuncture are low when you go to a licensed acupuncturist. Check on your state’s Department of Health website to validate licensure. Most states give open public access to that information.
When other potential causes of ED have been ruled out, acupuncture may be an option that helps.