Acupuncture ALS therapy

Acupuncture and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Acupuncture as a therapy for ALS patients is often considered by those who are newly diagnosed. The clinical evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture when it comes to ALS is marginal, to say the least, but the procedure has some research backing when it comes to controlling pain and may alleviate certain symptoms in some individuals.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to profound disability. Statistics suggest that on average, the disease will result in death within just three to five years following diagnosis. Unfortunately, there is no known cure and treatment options typically aim to alleviate the symptoms associated with the disease and slow down its progression.

For example, medications such as Rilutek and Radicava have been shown to slow the progression of ALS, but much of the treatment and therapy options available to patients is focused on making it easier for the individual to cope with the symptoms.

Occupational therapy is one example where adjustments can be introduced, helping with mobility or assisting with tasks such as feeding. Physiotherapy may also used to maintain the condition of muscles in the early stages of the disease.

Acupuncture as a therapy for ALS patients is another option that is often considered. Here we take a closer look at what acupuncture is and the effect it can have for those with this debilitating condition, particularly in helping to control symptoms such as pain and muscle weakness.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture points

Acupuncture is a traditional form of Chinese medicine that has been used for more than 2,000 years. It involves puncturing the skin with specially sterilised needles in specific areas of the body.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners, the application of these needles to certain points of the body can help to remedy a range of conditions. Most typically it is used for pain management.

In some cases, it’s thought to release of endorphins in the body and there is a reasonable body of medical evidence that points to its effective use in pain management and in pain reduction. Acupuncture clinics are common in China but there are now also many in Western countries such as the USA.

Acupuncture has been used for treating migraines and tension headaches, for dental and neck pain, in pregnancy and birth and in some cases for helping to reduce post-operative pain in surgical patients. There is less clinical evidence for using acupuncture to help treat addiction and conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Acupuncture as a Therapy for ALS Patients

The research conducted on the effectiveness of acupuncture as a therapy for ALS patients is fairly limited at the moment.

One study published in 2017 involved the case of a 55-year-old woman who presented with weakness in both arms and legs and had been diagnosed with ALS. According to the study, after an 8-week course in acupuncture, the weakness was reversed and the symptoms disappeared.

Another study using the Korean form of acupuncture with ALS patients found that a number of respiratory parameters including oxygen levels were improved by acupuncture. There was also an improvement in ALS Functioning Rating Scale analysis, though the exact clinical benefit of this was not clear.

There is some clinical evidence, however, that acupuncture may improve muscle strength and at least slow down the development of atrophy in some patients.

Whilst these studies point to a potential role for acupuncture in the treatment of ALS patients, they are by no means conclusive. More concentrated clinical trials need to be undertaken before we can see whether there is a causal and effective relationship or not.

  • Acupuncture is used to treat symptoms associated with ALS rather than the disease itself.
  • There is absolutely no evidence that it can either cure or help slow down the progression of the disease.
  • It may be able to reduce muscle weakness in some individuals and probably has a role to play in pain management especially when it comes to muscles and joints.
Acupuncture being performed on ALS patient

Risks Associated with Acupuncture

When most people are diagnosed with ALS, it has a devastating impact. Not only is there currently no cure for the disease but the prognosis of living beyond 5 years following an ALS diagnosis is poor.

It’s natural to latch onto a range of different medical options and try new approaches, even if there isn’t much evidence concerning their efficacy. On the whole, acupuncture is generally seen as a relatively safe procedure as long as it is carried out by a qualified and experienced practitioner.

The potential risks with acupuncture are if sterilised needles are not used or a person has a bleeding disorder. Many people speak of the benefits of acupuncture in helping with pain management and when it is used in psychological interventions such as giving up smoking.

There are not many acupuncture practitioners who have a deep understanding of ALS although they may be able to help with symptoms such as muscle weakness and issues with pain.