Acupuncture may be beneficial for some people with psoriasis. Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin disease that affects more than 8 million people in the United States. Common symptoms of psoriasis include painful, scaly, itchy, inflamed patches of skin called plaques. Although there is no cure for psoriasis, it is manageable and treatable.
The treatment goals for psoriasis are usually to minimize symptom severity, reduce the frequency of flares, and increase periods of disease remission. Standard treatment of psoriasis usually comprises a combination of pharmacological approaches (such as topical creams, oral corticosteroids, biologics, or ultraviolet phototherapy) and lifestyle changes.
There is also increasing interest in alternatives to Western medicine, such as acupuncture, to complement standard psoriasis treatment. As one member of MyPsoriasisTeam commented, “I have had to do a wraparound approach including natural treatments to maintain positive results for my severe psoriasis.”
Clinical studies haven’t confirmed the direct benefits of acupuncture on psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, but a growing body of evidence shows that alternative therapies like acupuncture therapy may be an effective part of holistic treatment for psoriasis symptoms.
Acupuncture is a complementary or alternative treatment and a type of traditional Chinese medicine dating back more than 2,500 years. Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles into the skin. It’s believed that the needles and their strategic placement at specific points on the body (called acupoints or acupuncture points) may help stimulate the nerves and reduce pain.
There are several types of acupuncture, including:
Acupuncture should be performed by licensed trained professionals called acupuncturists. If you decide to try acupuncture, make sure your acupuncture provider is board certified. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine lists board-certified acupuncturists.
“Remember: In all things, there is 'fair, good, better, and best', so persevere until you find the best practitioner,” encouraged a MyPsoriasisTeam member, “One who really gets you and listens to you and your needs.”
Acupuncture is unlikely to lead to complete skin clearance of psoriasis (when all evidence of psoriasis from the skin is gone), although research suggests it may help. A meta-analysis of six studies (522 total participants) of people with plaque psoriasis showed acupuncture led to some improvement. Specifically, participants showed improved results on the Psoriasis Area Severity Index (PASI) and had a decreased rate of relapse.
Anecdotally, some people reported improvements in their skin condition after trying acupuncture. One MyPsoriasisTeam member shared, “I have done 10 acupuncture treatments and the change is amazing! My plaques are at least 50 percent gone, if not more!” Another member reported, “I've only had five acupuncture treatments and noticed the spots of psoriasis are less itchy, flaky, lighter in color, and starting to shrink in size.”
For some people with psoriasis, however, acupuncture did not help. “I tried acupuncture for 18 months and it didn't work for me,” one member reported. “I have had acupuncture and it didn't change my psoriasis,” said another.
For others, acupuncture seems to have made their symptoms worse: “I had acupuncture on two occasions for approximately two months. Both times, it was combined with Chinese herbs. It was a complete disaster!” said a MyPsoriasisTeam member, describing how her skin flared severely after the treatment.
Research on acupuncture for psoriasis is limited. Still, studies have investigated the impact of acupuncture on common symptoms of psoriasis and psoriatic disease.
A review of 29 studies comprising almost 18,000 people concluded that acupuncture was an effective chronic pain treatment, reducing pain by about half. Weekly acupuncture treatments for chronic pain are recommended until you start to reap the treatment benefits.
Chronic pruritus, or itching, is a common symptom of psoriasis. Eighty percent of people with psoriasis experience itching. Several studies have shown the effectiveness of acupuncture in relieving itching. The exact mechanism of acupuncture on psoriasis-related itching isn’t fully understood, although early studies in animal models suggest it affects immune cell function.
Stress is a common trigger for psoriasis flares, so reducing stress may have benefits for people with psoriasis. Acupuncture is known to help relieve stress, which could also help prevent psoriasis flares. Some MyPsoriasisTeam members support the stress-relieving and relaxation promoting effects of acupuncture: “I go to acupuncture, which has worked the best for me and also massage,” said one member. Another shared, “I did feel much more relaxed generally.”
More than half of people with psoriasis express dissatisfaction with their traditional treatment, often because it doesn’t work well or causes unpleasant side effects. But all psoriasis treatments, including alternative medicine, come with some risk of adverse effects. Side effects reported in large-scale acupuncture trials include dizziness, local pain, and bruising or hematomas where the acupuncture needles are placed. More serious issues, such as spinal cord injury and organ puncture, are very rare. Overall, acupuncture is very safe when done by a trained professional.
There’s a dearth of randomized controlled trials to support acupuncture as a specific treatment for psoriasis. More stringent clinical trials are needed to better understand acupuncture’s effectiveness on psoriasis. That said, anecdotal evidence and current research findings support the idea that acupuncture is a moderately effective adjunctive treatment for some cases of psoriasis.
Work with your dermatologist and other providers to find the right balance of treatments for you.
MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. Members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.
Have you tried acupuncture as part of your symptom management routine? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyPsoriasisTeam.