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Will Acupuncture Help My AS?

Acupuncture is a type of traditional Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted through the skin at strategic points on the body. Acupuncture is most often used to treat pain, although it is used by people for other symptoms and conditions as well. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is described as a technique for balancing chi (pronounced chee), the life force energy that flows through the body in pathways called meridians. By using needles at specific points on these meridians, acupuncturists believe it will re-balance the body’s natural energy flow and relieve symptoms of disease. In Western medicine, it is believed that acupuncture may have benefits by stimulating the nerves, muscles, and/or connective tissue and possibly having an effect on the body’s production of natural pain killers.1

Acupuncture may be used for a variety of conditions, including1:

  • Chemotherapy-induced nausea
  • Headaches
  • Labor pain
  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Respiratory conditions, such as allergies

Acupuncture for ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) can cause chronic pain, stiffness, and other symptoms such as fatigue. In addition to medications, many people with AS look to complementary approaches to help manage their symptoms. Acupuncture is one complementary method that may help certain people with AS manage the chronic symptoms, particularly pain.2

Research on acupuncture

There have been a number of research studies conducted on acupuncture, and results suggest that acupuncture may provide benefit in pain relief, particularly in people experiencing chronic low back pain, neck pain, and knee pain due to osteoarthritis.3 Acupuncture has not been thoroughly studied in people with AS, although it may provide some relief from the pain caused by the disease.

Safety of acupuncture

Acupuncture is generally considered safe. The most common side effects are soreness or slight bleeding or bruising where the needles are placed. Few complications have been reported, although complications can result from the use of nonsterile needles or improper delivery of treatment. Some people may be at a higher risk for complications, including those with bleeding disorders, a pacemaker, or women who are pregnant.1,3

It’s important to find a licensed or certified acupuncture practitioner, although licensing varies from state to state. When considering getting acupuncture, ask about a practitioners training and experience.3

What to expect in an acupuncture session

Acupuncture sessions generally last 30 to 60 minutes in length and involve the placement of roughly five to 20 needles. Typically, needle insertion causes little to no pain or discomfort since the needles are small and very thin. Your practitioner may manipulate the needles once they are placed. Some types of acupuncture involve applying mild electrical pulses or heat to the needles. The needles are usually strategically placed based on the area of the body needing relief. Ask your practitioner where you should expect the needles to be placed during your session.1

Depending on needle placement, it may be necessary to undress. Once the needles are placed, they typically stay in place for up to 20 minutes before they are removed. Each individual’s response to acupuncture may vary from immediate relaxation, to fully energized post-session. Sessions may take place anywhere from one to two times a week to once a month. It may take time to feel the effects of acupuncture, and some individuals may experience no change post-session at all.1

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: February 2019
  1. Acupuncture. Mayo Clinic. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/acupuncture/basics/definition/prc-20020778. Accessed 2/18/19.
  2. Complementary therapies. National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society. Available at https://nass.co.uk/managing-my-as/exercise/complementary-therapies/. Accessed 2/18/19.
  3. Acupuncture: In Depth. National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction. Published 1/16. Accessed2/18/19.