While acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions, it is only since the 1970s that it has gained popularity in this country. To date, however, there have been no large-scale controlled clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of acupuncture in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). The few small studies that have been done suggest a possible benefit for fatigue, pain, mood and quality of life, but these findings await confirmation in larger studies.
Acupuncture may provide relief for some MS-related symptoms, including pain, spasticity, numbness and tingling, bladder problems, and depression. There is no evidence, however, that acupuncture can reduce the frequency of MS exacerbations or slow the progression of disability. If acupuncture is used, it should be as an addition to, rather than as a substitute for, standard medical treatments, and should only be used after consultation with one's physician or other MS healthcare professional. In addition, the treatment should be provided by a licensed acupuncturist. There are about 18,000 licensed practitioners in the United States.
In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) convened a 12-member panel to evaluate the numerous studies that had been done of acupuncture in other medical conditions. The panel concluded that acupuncture is a reasonable treatment option following a stroke, and for the management of headaches, facial pain, low back pain and neck pain. Additional studies have suggested that acupuncture might be beneficial for anxiety, depression, dizziness and urinary problems. Since none of the participants in these studies had MS, there is no way to know whether the benefits would be the same in people who have MS.