Overview

Acupuncture is a holistic treatment where trained practitioners insert fine needles into the skin. This is done to stimulate specific points and reactions within the body. It’s used as an alternative treatment for a number of different conditions, including psoriasis.

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that results in red, inflamed, and scaly patches on the skin. Early research of acupuncture found that it can be an effective treatment for managing psoriasis symptoms and flares.

Acupuncture benefits for psoriasis

Acupuncture may help treat psoriasis in several different ways. Acupuncture is an effective stress reliever, and stress is a common trigger of psoriasis flares. It can also help to relieve pain, especially in cases of psoriatic arthritis.

More research is needed. But there is strong anecdotal evidence that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for psoriasis. This includes potentially having the ability to reduce symptoms or lead to psoriasis remission.

One older study from 1992 found that half of all patients in the study (31 out of 60) had complete or near-complete clearance of lesions after about nine acupuncture sessions. Fourteen participants saw clearance in two-thirds of the lesions.

A 2004 study included 80 participants. It saw a 91.3 percent effectiveness rate in alleviating psoriasis symptoms after just five acupuncture sessions.

A newer study from 2016 also found improvement of lesions after using acupuncture as a treatment for psoriasis.

How it’s done

During an acupuncture treatment, your acupuncturist will ask about your pain and symptoms and examine any problem areas. Acupuncture needles are sterile and as thin as a strand of hair. The needles will be inserted at different depths, depending on the technique the provider is using. This depth can range from 1-2 inches deep. Once all needles have been inserted, they’ll remain in for up to 20 minutes. You may feel a deep heaviness or numbness, which means the treatment is working.

Your acupuncturist may surround the visible psoriasis flare with needles, which is done to attempt to bring more Chi to the area and balance the immune system. This is called “surrounding the dragon.” In other cases, they’ll place the needles at different points on your body depending on where the lesions are. For example, if lesions are on the head, the acupuncturist would treat the Ying Xiang (near the nose) and Su Liao (tip of the nose) points.

Potential risks

Acupuncture has strong anecdotal evidence and some research that supports it being an effective treatment for psoriasis. But it may not help everyone. Some people do experience mild soreness during and after the treatment, though this should resolve quickly.

Acupuncture has very few side effects, so long as it’s practiced in a clean environment with sterile needles. Non-sterilized needles can result in infections. It’s also crucial to go to an experienced, properly trained provider. A substandard provider may cause additional pain.

The biggest downside is that regular treatment is often required, at least to get flares under control. This can be time-consuming and expensive, especially if insurance won’t cover it.

For those who have bleeding disorders, acupuncture could greatly increase the chance of bleeding or bruising. People with pacemakers should also check with their doctor before having acupuncture. Treatment that involves adding electric currents to the acupuncture needles could interfere with pacemakers.

You should also let your provider know if you’re taking blood thinners.

Guidelines for getting acupuncture

To get psoriasis flares under control, some acupuncturists recommend coming once per week for 4-8 sessions, depending on your progress.

When you go for your acupuncture appointment, wear loose clothing. Some of it may need to be adjusted or removed during your treatment. It’s advised not to wear perfume or strong-smelling deodorant so that you won’t affect anyone else who may have chemical sensitivities. You should try to avoid scheduling your appointment before or after something stressful.

It’s also important to eat an hour or so before you go, as acupuncture can otherwise leave you feeling low on energy and a little light-headed. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before the appointment.

Outlook

Since psoriasis sometimes becomes resistant to medications used long-term, acupuncture is a fantastic option as an alternative treatment that people with psoriasis can try. You can see results in as soon as one to four weeks, especially if you go for treatment regularly. It’s also unlikely to interfere with any of the treatments you’ve already started, making it a high-reward, low-risk opportunity for treatment.

In very rare cases, organ injury is possible if the needles are pushed too deeply into the area above them. Pneumothorax, or a collapsed lung, may occur in the case of an injured lung. This is the most common organ injury from acupuncture. If you experience severe pain, struggle to breathe, cough up blood, or have any other new, severe symptoms following treatment, seek immediate emergency attention.