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Acupuncture and MS

By Matt Cavallo

As previously discussed in, Integrative Medicine and MS, I have always pursued CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) treatments and healers. One of the CAM therapies that I have used since being diagnosed with MS is acupuncture.
Acupuncture is a holistic medical treatment that dates back thousands of years to ancient oriental medicine. Acupuncture is when a licensed acupuncturist inserts needles into specific points in your body to stimulate energy flow. The ancient oriental belief is that we all have Qi or “chi” (energy) flowing through our body in pathways. When those pathways get blocked, our chi cannot flow. The acupuncture needles are inserted at certain points to unblock the chi and achieve balance. Western medicine believes that these pressure points stimulate the nervous system to release certain chemicals to achieve pain relief or other desired effects.
How can acupuncture be used to help someone living with MS? Acupuncture is not considered an MS treatment. There are no studies that show that acupuncture slows the progression of the disease or increases the time in between relapses. Acupuncture should be used as a complimentary therapy for MS in addition to your normal routine.
While not an MS treatment, acupuncture may be beneficial in the treatment of certain MS symptoms. Acupuncture can provide relief to symptoms such as pain, spasticity, bladder problems, depression, numbness, and tingling. It also may take several appointments to find relief. While a person living with MS may experience temporary relief from symptoms, MS is a chronic illness for which there is no known cure. As always, please consult your physician if you think that acupuncture would be beneficial to you.
The first time I tried acupuncture was after my diagnosis. I had just spent a couple of months not being able to walk or go to the bathroom on my own. At the time, I was suffering the aches and pains that accompany a period of immobility, as well as a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety that resulted from the diagnosis, and I just didn’t feel like myself. My wife, who had acupuncture in the past, suggested that I try it. She had sought treatment for back pain and it worked wonders for her. So, I decided to give it a shot.
When I arrived at my appointment, the treatment room reminded me of a massage room. There was a massage table, low light, and spa-like music. I was afraid that the needles would hurt and expressed those concerns to the acupuncturist. The acupuncturist assured me that it wouldn’t hurt. He also set the expectation that the needles would be in me for 20 or more minutes depending on how I tolerated the treatment. I laid face-down with my head in the hole of the massage bed, and the next thing I felt was a little stick in my ear. There was no pain with the needle, but I could definitely feel it. Several more needles were inserted into my ear and my neck. There were also needles inserted into my arm and hand. Once the needles were inserted, the acupuncturist excused himself from the room.
I immediately experienced a sensation of deep relaxation. My body felt lighter and within a minute, I fell into a deep sleep. I was gently awakened by the feeling of the acupuncturist removing the needles. I was told to relax until I could stand. I collected myself during the next couple of minutes and then was able to get up and go home. I did feel relief from my pain and was able to get better night’s sleep. Overall I felt rejuvenated, and I opted to return for several repeat treatments during that first month.
To this day, I get acupuncture treatments when I feel out of balance or I’m experiencing symptoms related to my MS. Acupuncture is not a substitute for my MS treatments, but it is something that I have found very helpful to manage the physical and emotional symptoms and side-effects related to my disease.  Acupuncture may help you too, but as always, consult your physician before starting any new treatments.