Traditional acupuncture for stress

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Traditional acupuncture provides a holistic therapy that seeks to look at the person as a whole. This can be quite a useful approach in conditions such as stress, since this primary condition (in the sense that its whats being treated) can often be accompanied by a secondary more physical condition such as back pain, headaches etc which would fall outside the scope of treatments such as CBT or drug based therapies.

The underlying principle of traditional acupuncture is that all the body's functions are connected by the flow of qi (or vital energy) around the body. The purpose of diagnosis, as with Western doctors, is to identify the nature and cause of any imbalance, and is carried out using observation, questioning and palpation. Read more about diagnosis.

Having diagnosed the nature and cause of the imbalance a treatment plan will be devised. The treatment will vary depending on the type of therapist you consult - see Did you know that there are two differing types of treatment commonly called acupuncture?

This is aimed at resolving the root cause of a condition, as well as addressing the symptoms or complications - with stress this will involve stomach and digestive problems, high blood pressure, sleep disturbance and mental/emotional symptoms like outbursts of anger, panic attacks and feelings of being overwhelmed by tasks that need to be finished in a timely manner. The treatment is carried out by inserting ultra fine sterile disposable needles into selected acupuncture points on the body to regulate the flow of qi in the meridians or channels.

Stress and its symptoms create a vicious cycle, for example with our sleep patterns, or our patterns of eating. Late nights and irregular eating habits can put us under additional stress which then make us more un-likely to go to bed early or eat regularly etc. etc. The untreated stagnation of qi that this leads to will generate internal disharmonies which then make it harder to sleep and maintain regular patterns in our life.

The flow of qi in the human body is closely allied to the emotions as well as the physiological aspects. We will respond to stress by exhibiting stagnation in the flow of qi - this affects systems like the digestive system, and at an emotional level by interrupting the appropriate expression of emotions - hence irritability and outbursts of anger. Sleep patterns become disturbed - this weakens the yin principle - leading to yin deficiency. Stress leads to pathologies of shen - lack of concentration, unfocussed mental activity and sleep disturbance - possibly panic attacks and palpations on lying down to go to sleep.

The treatment for stress will involve needling points which address qi stagnation, yin deficiency and shen pathologies.


In discussing the research available on the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating stress two important factors need to be taken into account. Namely there is a limited amount of clinical research on stress as such, apart from its associations with conditions such as back pain, premenstrual syndrome and hypertension, all of which can be exacerbated by being under stress; and the problems associated with being able to clearly define stress. This is particularly important when designing a research programme with as few random variables as possible. Despite these two difficulties, there is some evidence in the trials discussed here that acupuncture can be beneficial in treating the symptoms of chronic stress.

An exploratory pragmatic programme using a randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of traditional acupuncture using treatment protocols targeted at individual requirements and diagnoses - delivered by practitioners trained in traditional acupuncture.

The trial examined the treatment of chronic stress in 18 participants - weekly for 5 weeks.
The outcomes were determined by using the ‘Perceived stress scale - 14’ (PSS-14) and ‘Measure yourself medical outcomes profile’ (MYMOP) questionnaires completed before and after the treatment.

The participants were chosen using a randomly controlled selection process into 3 groups - a treatment group; a practitioner present and patient lying on a treatment couch, but no needling administered; and a control group of patients on a waiting list. After 5 weeks the acupuncture group and the no treatment group, reported significant changes in MYMOP scores, but the control group showed no changes. The PSS-14 scores in all 3 groups decreased but the difference between pre and post treatment, within and between goups did not reach significant levels. As discussed in the introduction a lack of clarity in being able to define stress, makes it complex to investigate, but taking this into consideration the conclusions that can be drawn from this study suggest that acupuncture might be successful in treating symptoms of chronic stress.

An uncontrolled study to investigate a commonly used acupuncture point that has beneficial effects for stress, in 4 weekly sessions using 17 volunteers recruited from the staff in a hospice. The outcome showed that with 16 of them, i.e 94% showed an improvement in symptoms of  ‘psychological stress’ according to the ‘Edinburgh postnatal depression’ scale - EPDS. The scores were observed within the first two treatments; and the average reduction at the end of the study was 44%.

Research into possible mechanisms was carried out by assessing the results of MRI scan results in 10 healthy adults during manual acupuncture at 3 points and a sham point on the dorsal surface of the foot. The procedure produced extensive deactivation of limbic-paralimbic-neocortical system. The conclusion of the trial demonstrates that acupuncture can modulate this network, which has control over the areas of the limbic system that modulate the analgesic, anti-anxiety and cognitive dimensions of pain.


Huang W, et al. An investigation into the effectiveness of traditional Chinese acupuncture for chronic stress in adults: a randomised controlled pilot study. Complementary Ther Clin Pract 2011; 17: 16-21

Chan J, et al. An uncontrolled pilot study of HT7 for ‘stress’. Acupunct Med 20012; 20: 74-7.

Hui K.K.-S. The salient characteristics of the central effects of acupuncture needling: limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network modulation. Human Brain Mapping 2009; 30: 1196-206.


1 comment

  • Comment Link Shirly Fabacher Wednesday, 27 April 2016 20:05 posted by Shirly Fabacher

    Many thanks for the information included and even the pictures, we were trying to find certain products today and also took care of to find your blog, we are leaving these comments to guarantee that you keep composing more information like this

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