While research is limited, some studies suggest acupuncture can help reduce ADHD symptoms.

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. It’s believed to stimulate the body’s energy flow (Qi) and promote balance.

Many people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have turned to acupuncture and other alternative therapies to help alleviate symptoms.

While the scientific evidence regarding acupuncture for ADHD is limited and mixed, proponents suggest that acupuncture may help manage ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention, as well as improve relaxation and overall well-being.

In TCM, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is viewed as an imbalance of the Heart-Mind rather than as a disease. Acupuncture addresses this imbalance through the clearance of Heat/Wind in the head, relief of liver Qi stagnation, and tonification of the spleen and kidneys.

In Western medicine, older evidence suggests that acupuncture influences brain activity, with studies showing reductions in activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) as well as changes in brain glucose metabolism.

This is important as hyperactivity in the DMPFC is linked to various psychiatric disorders with socio-emotional disturbances such as ADHD and schizophrenia.

While scientific research on acupuncture for ADHD is limited, some evidence suggests that acupuncture can reduce ADHD symptoms and help individuals reduce their dependence on stimulants. Some studies have also shown that TCM, including acupuncture, may have advantages over methylphenidate (Ritalin) in treating ADHD.

In a case study, a 25-year-old university student diagnosed with ADHD decided to slowly taper off stimulants with the help of acupuncture and herbs.

Over a period of several months, he received biweekly acupuncture treatments targeting his Heart-Mind balance via specific acupuncture points. He gradually reduced his medication dosage while avoiding typical withdrawal symptoms.

After 3 months, he successfully discontinued all medications and noticed significant improvements in his functioning.

Is acupuncture effective for children with ADHD?

While research on acupuncture for children with ADHD is still relatively limited, a growing body of evidence suggests it may be effective.

In a review of 10 studies involving 876 children and adolescents, researchers assessed the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for ADHD. They also compared acupuncture to methylphenidate hydrochloride (MPH) therapy.

The results show that acupuncture treatment was much more effective than MPH therapy, particularly in reducing hyperactivity symptoms. Few adverse events were reported in the acupuncture group, and in some cases, acupuncture was associated with a reduction in adverse drug reactions.

Furthermore, the effects of acupuncture were sustained even after the treatment periods had ended.

Still, the findings should be viewed with caution, as the authors noted that the sample size was relatively small and that there was a potential risk of bias. They say that further well-designed trials with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm and strengthen these results, particularly in Western populations.

Another review of 14 studies evaluated the effectiveness of acupuncture for ADHD in 1,185 children.

The findings show that acupuncture, either as an add-on to conventional medicine or as a stand-alone treatment, had a positive effect on improving conduct problems, learning problems, hyperactivity–impulsivity, and hyperactivity symptoms in children with ADHD.

Acupuncture showed better overall treatment efficacy compared to conventional medication alone. Again, however, the evidence was limited, and the risk of bias was a concern.

While there isn’t a single set of standardized acupuncture points exclusively for ADHD, practitioners may select points based on the individual’s symptoms and TCM diagnosis.

Some commonly used acupuncture points for ADHD may include:

  • Gv20 (Baihui): Located at the top of the head, in the midline. It’s considered a point for clearing heat and promoting mental clarity.
  • Lv3 (Taichong): Located on the top of the foot, in the depression between the big toe and the second toe. It’s believed to help regulate liver energy and reduce restlessness.
  • Sp6 (Sanyinjiao): Located on the inner side of the lower leg, about four finger widths above the ankle bone. It’s commonly used to harmonize the spleen and kidney energies and promote calmness.
  • Pc6 (Neiguan): Located on the inner forearm, about two thumb widths above the wrist crease. It’s thought to help with calming the mind and reducing anxiety.

How does Chinese medicine understand ADHD?

Chinese medicine understands ADHD as an imbalance in the Heart-Mind, rather than as a disease. It attributes the symptoms of ADHD to factors such as excess Heat/Wind in the head, liver Qi stagnation, and possible complications from Dampness, which may be rooted in deficiencies of the spleen and kidneys.

The use of alternative medicine has grown significantly, particularly for developmental and behavioral conditions like ADHD. In fact, data from family doctors and internists show that acupuncture is one of the most frequently recommended alternative therapies.

Evidence suggests that approximately 60–65% of parents of children diagnosed with ADHD seek alternative approaches to manage ADHD symptoms and reduce the side effects commonly associated with conventional medication.

Acupuncture is generally considered safe when performed by a qualified and experienced practitioner, and the risks and side effects are typically minimal.

Since the procedure involves the use of thin needles inserted into points on the body, you may experience temporary sensations such as tingling, mild pain, or bruising at those sites.

Acupuncture shows promise as an alternative therapy for individuals with ADHD.

While research in this area is still limited, a growing body of evidence suggests that acupuncture can help reduce ADHD symptoms and possibly help reduce the reliance on stimulant medications.

If you’re considering acupuncture as part of your ADHD treatment plan, be sure to consult with a licensed acupuncturist.