Can acupuncture help with psoriasis?

 

 Can acupuncture help with psoriasis?

 

 

Acupuncture is a complementary treatment that has been used for thousands of years which involves inserting thin needles into the skin. Studies have suggested that it can help with pain relief, stress management, immune system response, and inflammation - however, more large scale, double-blind studies need to be conducted before its effectiveness can be proven.

 

Studies have also been conducted on the effects of acupuncture on psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. This article will review the evidence around acupuncture for psoriasis, what the procedure involves, and possible risks. 

 

 

Acupuncture and psoriasis

 

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes red or purple scaly patches on the skin which may peel, itch, and bleed. Psoriatic arthritis affects some people who have psoriasis, and can cause joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. 

 

Traditional treatments for these conditions including medicines to calm the immune system reaction, skin creams, anti-inflammatory medicines, steroid injections and avoiding triggers such as stress or alcohol. 

 

Acupuncture could also be a helpful treatment for psoriasis. Some research has suggested that acupuncture may be worth considering:

  • A 2015 systematic review found "some evidence of benefit" in treating psoriasis. However, its authors explain that they based their conclusions on a small number of studies, and that there were some conflicting results.
  • A 2017 overview of the literature on acupuncture for psoriasis was more optimistic. The authors claim that acupuncture treatment for psoriasis is "simple, convenient, and effective," with minimal side effects and little risk of toxicity.
  • A 2017 review of 13 randomized trials states that acupuncture-related treatments "could be considered" as an alternative therapy for the short-term treatment of psoriasis, and that more well designed studies would be helpful.

Skin injuries such as a cut or scrape can cause psoriasis flare ups; however, acupuncture needles cause little to no injury to the skin as they are very thin, sterile, and single use.

 

Acupuncture and joint pain

 

There is not a lot of evidence regarding acupuncture as a treatment specifically for psoriatic arthritis. However, many studies have shown evidence that acupuncture is effective in relieving other types of joint pain:

 

  • A 2018 study found that acupuncture reduced joint pain in postmenopausal women who were undergoing treatment for early-stage breast cancer.
  • A 2019 study found that acupuncture had some benefit for people with rheumatoid arthritis in the hand. The treatment helped reduce pain and improved strength in the hand.
  • A 2018 review of acupuncture treatment for rheumatoid arthritis concluded that acupuncture alone or combined with other treatments is "worth trying." The authors explain that acupuncture has anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects, and that it helps regulate immune system function. These three factors are important in treating psoriatic arthritis. 

 

 

Acupuncture and anxiety

 

Both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis can cause stress and anxiety due to a variety of factors. Acpuncture may be a way to help treat the anxiety and improve the quality of life for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. 

 
  • A 2018 clinical trial found that ear acupuncture was effective in reducing exam-related stress in college students.
  • A small-scale 2016 study found that acupuncture helped reduce anxiety levels in people with anxiety disorders. Changes in part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex showed that acupuncture could induce a relaxation effect.
  • A 2017 review found that acupuncture was helpful in relieving anxiety in women with infertility.

Although these studies were not based on the effect that acupuncture can have on anxiety related to psoriasis or psoriatic anxiety specifically, the general anxiety-relieving effects may be helpful for people living with the conditions.

 

 Procedure

 

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice involving placing tiny needles in the skin. The needles then stimulate acupuncture points on the body. The needles are very thin and only enter the surface of the skin.

Acupuncturists generally believe that stimulating these points on the body helps its energy, or qi, flow freely. This can then help treat or prevent certain health conditions.

During an acupuncture appointment, a patient may be required to remove some of their clothing so the acupuncturist can access the part of the body they need. The patient will lie down on a bed and use a sheet or blanket to cover up and stay warm. The acupuncturest may use an alcohol wipe to clean the areas that they will be working on. They then lightly tap the needles into the specified points on the body. In some cases, the acupuncturist may use heat or electrical stimulation on the needles first to enhance their effect.

The acupuncturist may then leave the patient alone to rest while the needles stay in place. Some practitioners may use soft music, heat lamps, or other comfort measures during this time. After several minutes, the practitioner will return, remove the needles, and dispose of them appropriately. 

Acupuncture may not be a quick fix - several visits may be required before a patient may see results. This has been reported as being as much as 13 or 14 weeks of treatment before patients began to see improvements in their psoriasis symptoms.

 

Risks

 

There are very few risks involved with acupuncture when it is done by a licensed provider. The Food and Drug Administration regulate acupuncture needles as medical devices - this means that only licensed providers should use them, ensuring the needles are sterile, nontoxic, and only have one use before disposal.

However, if a patient receives acupuncture from an unlicensed or nonqualified provider, or if the needles are not sterile and single use, there are risks of infection, injury and other serious effects. 

Before receiving acupuncture, check that the provider is licensed or certified and is educated in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. The CMA has a list of certified acupuncture providers on our website.

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

People with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis may find that acupuncture can help keep the symptoms under control. It can alaso help relileve stress, which could help to prevent flare ups. People who have these conditions should still see a medical practitioner regularly to ensure their condition remains under control. They should also tell their healthcare provider about acupuncture and any other complementary treaments they are trying.

 

 

Sullivan, D. (2019). Acupuncture for psoriasis: Evidence, procedure, and risks. [online] Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325378.php [Accessed 24 Jul. 2019].

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