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Acupuncture for constipation
source:MedicalNewsToday 2023-05-19 [Medicine]
Constipation is characterized by infrequent bowel movements or difficulty in passing stool. Although there are medications available to treat constipation, they can cause side effects. Acupuncture is one alternative treatment many people try to help manage the condition.

Can acupuncture help with constipation?


Yes, in some cases, acupuncture can help with constipation. Acupuncture is a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that involves stimulating specific points on the body by inserting tiny needles into the skin.

The needles stay in position for 20–60 minutes, and the practitioner may gently manipulate them to enhance the therapeutic effects.

TCM practitioners believe that acupuncture sites or meridians connect the body’s qi or energy pathways. Stimulating the meridians aims to restore the balance and flow of energy, which promotes healthy digestion and alleviates constipation.

Experts are unsure as to the exact mechanisms by which acupuncture works. A 2017 review suggests that acupuncture points lie in areas where stimulation affects various sensory neurons and nerve fibers. Once activated, this influences the nervous system and triggers specific physiological responses.



What the research says

Overall, evidence suggests that acupuncture for constipation may be effective.

A 2020 meta-analysisTrusted Source found evidence to support the use of acupuncture for constipation. The analysis included 28 randomized controlled trials (RCTs)with 3,525 participants. The authors found that acupuncture for constipation was safe and effective, particularly in terms of increased stool frequency and improved constipation symptoms.

However, there were some limitations. For example, most of the trials took place in China, which could lead to publication bias and favoring acupuncture as a treatment. There are also unanswered questions surrounding the frequency and duration of acupuncture for constipation.

A 2021 meta-analysisTrusted Source of five RCTs also found that acupuncture could ease constipation in individuals with cancer using opioids for pain relief. The authors noted that the symptom scores of straining, abdominal pain, and defecation time were lower in the acupuncture groups compared with the control groups. Quality of life was also higher in the groups receiving acupuncture.

Taken together, these findings suggest that acupuncture may be a viable treatment option for constipation. However, further research is needed to establish optimal treatment protocols and to confirm the long-term benefits of acupuncture for constipation of different causes and in diverse populations.



How to try it


When considering acupuncture for constipation, people should prioritize safety and seek the services of a licensed and qualified practitioner. Because acupuncture involves needles, the practitioner must follow proper hygiene protocols, such as using single-use, disposable needles and sterilizing the treatment area.

Individuals should also verify the credentials of the practitioner’s legitimacy. For example, in the United States, the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is a reputable organization that certifies practitioners who meet specific educational and professional requirements.

NCCAOM provides a directory of acupuncture and Eastern medicine practitioners. People can search the directory for practitioners in their area and confirm they have experience treating gastrointestinal issues, including constipation.



Risks and side effects


While acupuncture is generally considered a safe and noninvasive treatment option, people should understand the potential risks and side effects.

When a qualified and experienced practitioner performs acupuncture using sterile single-use needles, most side effects are minor and temporary. However, the potential risks include:

  • .minor bleeding and bruising at the needle insertion sites
  • .pain or discomfort
  • .infection
  • .damage to internal tissues or organs

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers acupuncture needles as medical devices and regulates their manufacture and labeling. The needles are sterile, nontoxic, and labeled as single-use by a licensed practitioner.

Before beginning acupuncture for constipation, people should consult a doctor. Sometimes a doctor may advise using acupuncture alongside conventional treatments, particularly in chronic or severe cases.


Evidence-backed treatment options


Depending on what is causing constipation, treatment typically involves a combination of dietary adjustments, lifestyle changes, and medications. It may also involve addressing any underlying health concerns contributing to irregular bowel movements.

Increasing fiber and fluid intake is often enough to make stool soft and easier to pass. People should increase their fiber intake to 22Trusted Source–Trusted Source34 grams dailyTrusted Source.

It is also important to engage in regular activity to help promote healthy bowel function. Walking, jogging, swimming, or yoga can help stimulate the digestive system and encourage regular bowel movements.

Bulk-forming laxatives, such as psyllium or methylcellulose, can help add bulk and moisture to the stool, making it easier to pass. Alternatively, doctors may recommend osmotic laxatives, such as magnesium hydroxide or polyethylene glycol, to increase the amount of water in the intestines, softening stools and promoting bowel movements.

In severe or chronic cases, the individual may require further specialist evaluation and treatment.




Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles at specific points in the body. Practitioners believe that this can help rebalance essential energy flow and relieve symptoms.

Evidence suggests that acupuncture for constipation is safe and effective. However, it’s important that people use properly qualified and licensed professionals and consult a doctor before beginning any acupuncture for constipation.