Acupuncture for multiple sclerosis (MS) is a treatment that is not as well researched as other conditions, but is showing promising results both in research and practices across the country. According the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, there has not been a national study of the prevalence of MS in the U.S. since the mid 70’s, but in 2017, they estimated that around 1 million Americans, and 2.5 million people across the globe have MS. Acupuncture seeks to improve the quality of life for MS patients, and relief from MS symptoms.
What Is MS?
Before getting into acupuncture treatment for MS, it is important that we as providers know at least the basics of the disease. MS is an autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) for which there is currently no known cure. MS attacks the myelin (the protective sheath) that covers the nerve fibers causing communication issues between the brain and the body. The severity of the disease varies from person to person, and for some it is mild, while for others the symptoms are debilitating.
MS symptoms will vary depending on the extensiveness of nerve damage, and which nerves are impacted.
Common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:
- Weakness or numbness in one or both limbs, occurring on one side of the body at a time, such as the trunk or legs.
- Unsteady gait
- Tingling throughout the body
- Pain throughout the body
- Problems with bowel or bladder function
- Sexual dysfunction
- Reduced coordination
- Lhermitte sign, which is an electric-shock sensation that happens most frequently when bending the neck forward.
- Blurry vision
- Slurred speech
Since symptoms can vary from person to person, researchers speculate that MS may be a syndrome or spectrum of other disorders rather than a single disease.
Just as the symptoms can vary person to person, so can the type of MS that a person is presenting with. This is categorized by the progression of the disease as well as whether a person has relapses or flare-ups.
The categories of MS are:
- Progressive-Relapsing (PRMS) – acute relapses, and progressive from onset. This generally progresses faster than RRMS, but can be in remission for many years.
- Relapse-Remitting (RRMS) – rotates between remission and relapse. This is the most common form of MS accounting for about 85% of cases at onset.
- Primary Progressive (PPMS) – neurological function progresses steadily getting worse from onset.
- Secondary Progressive (SPMS) – begins as RRMS, then turns into a progressive form leading to a worsening of symptoms.
Essentially, MS has the ability to change an evolve over time such as moving from RRMS to SPMS. Your patient’s quality of life, or better yet, how we can improve upon their quality of life, will depend on their symptoms or the underlying root cause. Western medicine doctors will treat MS with things like disease-modifying therapies, self-injectable medications, oral medications, and even IV infusion treatments to slow disease progression.
Neurologists are still uncertain what causes MS, but it is speculated that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors, although it is not yet understood how this is the case. According to research, more people suffer from MS that are in colder climates further away from the equator as opposed to those living closer to the equator in warmer climates. What does this mean we can do as acupuncturists? We can complement their treatments in western medicine to amplify a better quality of life, and, if successful, can possibly lower treatments needed from western medicine drugs.
Acupuncture and MS
Acupuncture works for providing relief in the treatment of MS-related symptoms. Since the acupuncture points stimulate the nervous system, it is very important when treating a patient with MS to do a very thorough consultation as MS attacks and inflammation are associated with some overactive immune functions. In TCM, MS is considered to be caused by Kidney, Liver, and Spleen Yin Deficiency of Blood and Qi, Liver wind, and lack of nutrition to the eyes. Our overall goal as providers, is to address the symptoms the patient is experiencing from their MS, improve their quality of life, and possibly preventing the progression of the disease.
Acupuncture treatment actions for MS:
- Nourish the blood to improve vision
- Tone the Liver, Spleen, and Kidney
- Strengthen the bones and muscles
That being said, patients with similar symptoms may potentially have different underlying imbalances, and each case of MS could be linked to a different root cause. Now, more than ever, patients are choosing to complement their western medicine treatment with acupuncture as it provides a safe and natural way for MS patients to boost their overall health and relieve symptoms. Depending on the type of MS that the patient presents with, various acupuncture points and herbal options offer well equipped ways to address the complex varieties of this disease.
Acupuncture Points for MS:
- ST36 – Leg Three Li – Zusanli – located 3 cun below ST35, and used to tonify Wei Qi and Qi. Especially beneficial when used with Moxa for low immunity, chronic illness, and general weakness.
- LI17 – Celestial Tripod – Tian Ding – located on the lateral side of the neck 1 cun below LI18, and used for brain issues related to circulation as well as psychological issues including MS, dyslexia, brain tumors, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- SI16 – Celestial Windows – Tian Chuang – falls into the category of Window of the Sky points, located on the lateral side of the neck level with the Adam’s apple, and also used for brain issues related to circulation such as occipital headache, Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors, dyslexia, and MS.
- ST42 – Surging Yang – Chongyang – located between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsals between the extensor muscles of the big toe and other toes, and useful for MS as it deals with motor control issues of the foot as well as pain.
- UB9 – Jade Pillow – Yu Zhen – located 1.3 cun lateral to GV17, and used to affect the cerebellum with muscle coordination and equilibrium which is helpful in MS, stroke, ALS, and Parkinson’s. Additionally, this point is helpful with MS for symptoms related to eye pain and blurry vision.
While there are many points that could be helpful in the treatment of MS and every patient’s root cause should be considered, these are great jumpstart points to include in your treatment plan. According to research, scalp acupuncture is said to be very helpful in MS treatment, and although more research is needed, the results are very positive.
Acupuncture Treatment for MS
Acupuncture for MS still has a long way to go as far as necessary research showing its benefits for treating MS pain and other symptoms. However, research that is out there currently shows not only positive results, but urgent calls for action on western medicine researchers to further study acupuncture as it could have a significant impact on MS patients treatment and recovery.
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