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Can acupuncture help PD symptoms?

Monday October 29, 2012

Acupuncture  is based on the belief that a certain life-force energy (“chi”) flows throughout your body along energy pathways called meridians. When the flow of chi becomes blocked or unbalanced at any point on a pathway this is what leads to illness. Acupuncture aims to ‘unblock’ these channels.

Little is known about the effect of acupuncture on Parkinson’s motor symptoms, mood, fatigue and well-being.  Our understanding of the potential benefits is mostly from anecdotal reports such as simple observations from people about how they feel after this therapy.  Because these reports often do not test the possible effect of placebo or the benefits of other therapies that are sometimes combined with acupuncture (such as relaxation techniques, physician or acupuncturist counseling, other lifestyle changes or changes in attitude), it is unclear how acupuncture truly affects Parkinson’s well-being.   One study did evaluate the effect of acupuncture performed at a specific point termed GB34. Using fMRI imaging, researchers measured the specific effects of needling acupuncture point GB34 (Yanglingquan) on areas of the brain related to Parkinson’s Disease. Acupuncture activated brain centers that suffer excess deactivation in Parkinson’s Disease patients.

What this means for acupuncture and PD is unclear. However, controlled replicated research studies support the use of acupuncture for pain and headache suggesting this is a valid therapy for health and disease.

Follow these guidelines if you try acupuncture

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about acupuncture and review any concerns and expectations together
  • Research your acupuncturist’s training and credentials.  Your state’s medical licensing board can provide certification information as many states require licensing. Visit the  American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine website for more information, www.aaaomonline.org.
  • Talk about your goals before treatment. Discuss how many treatments are needed, the associated cost and at what point treatment will be re-evaluated for its effect.  Review when treatment be stopped if you do not notice a benefit?
  • Ask about other modalities commonly practiced with acupuncture such as herbal medicine, massage or similar relaxation techniques. Will they be used during your sessions? What are the added risks or costs?

Monique L. Giroux, MDMonique L. Giroux, MD
Medical Director, Northwest Parkinson's Foundation

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