Endometriosis is a chronic condition where cells similar to endometrial cells (cells that line the uterus) grow outside of the uterus.
Endometriosis typically involves the tissue lining the pelvis, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. It rarely spreads beyond the pelvic organs and is often quite painful.
Acupuncture is a form of treatment involving the insertion of very thin needles through a person’s skin at specific, strategic points on their body.
Western medicine recognizes acupuncture as a method to stimulate:
- connective tissue
It may help to:
- increase blood flow
- reduce inflammation
- cause endorphins to be released
In addition to this, acupuncturists and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners recognize acupuncture as a potential method to balance the body’s qi (energy or life force).
There are times when acupuncture may be considered as part of a treatment plan for endometriosis. Here’s how that can work.
Acupuncture practitioners promote acupuncture for endometriosis as a natural, noninvasive approach that can complement other treatments.
You’ll want to talk with your doctor to make sure you’re getting guidance on treatments and if acupuncture is right for you.
If you decide to try acupuncture for your endometriosis, plan for the initial course of treatment to last 6 to 8 weeks with visits once or twice a week. After the first phase, your practitioner might move you to 2 weeks per month. Commonly, you would be told to expect results in 3 to 6 months.
Your timeline for treatment may vary based on your needs and the practitioner you choose.
There’s no definitive answer to the question about acupuncture working for endometriosis. The closest answer would be that acupuncture could help some people deal with the discomfort of endometriosis, but more studies are necessary.
2011 articlein the New England Journal of Medicine cited a trial that showed the efficacy of Japanese-style acupuncture for endometriosis-related pain. The article concluded that data from large, randomized, controlled trials is needed to confirm these findings.
- A 2019 case study of one patient with endometriosis showed some potential for pain management with acupuncture, though it was too small to have definitive results.
2017 review of studiesindicated that, although literature suggests that pain can be reduced with acupuncture, more studies with adherence to best clinical practices are needed.
2018 review of studiessuggested that acupuncture improved symptom relief outcomes more than other complementary methods such as exercise, electrotherapy, and yoga.
The first step your doctor might recommend is to treat your endometriosis with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as NSAIDs.
If that doesn’t give you the results you need, your next step might be hormone therapy. This includes:
- hormonal contraceptives
- progestin therapy
- aromatase inhibitors
- Gn-RH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) agonists and antagonists
The final step, if the first steps do not offer you the relief you need, might be surgery.
Commonly, your doctor might recommend laparoscopic surgery to remove endometrial tissue. In some cases, your doctor might recommend a hysterectomy and perhaps removal of your ovaries as well.
Acupuncture is often considered an integrative and complementary medicine as opposed to an alternative one. A complementary medicine is one that works alongside other medical treatments. It doesn’t replace them.
Although studies have yet to be conclusive, there are some indications that acupuncture could help some people living with endometriosis pain. To be sure of what acupuncture can and can’t do to treat endometriosis, more clinical research studies are necessary.
Before making a final decision about any complementary procedure (such as acupuncture) discuss it with your doctor.
There’s little risk to acupuncture from a licensed acupuncturist. It might be an option for those who have not found treatment from other methods.
Acupuncture isn’t always covered by insurance (though that is changing more and more) and typically requires numerous visits and treatments.
If you’re considering acupuncture, discuss costs with your practitioner before you begin your course of treatment.
You should also talk with your medical provider about your use of this treatment and the results you’re experiencing.