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Acupuncture treatment for prostatitis is a recommended type of alternative treatment for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS). This ancient Chinese medicine practice is based on the theory that qi (chi), or life energy, flows through the body in invisible channels called meridians. When energy becomes blocked, this disruption of the energy flow can lead to illness.
People have been using acupuncture for thousands of years in the East. The Western view on acupuncture is it works by stimulating the central nervous system to release hormones and neurotransmitters that can boost the immune system, dull pain, and help regulate various body functions. It can also be relaxing to patients, which is an important benefit when dealing with a condition associated with stress and tension.
How is acupuncture done? Practitioners access meridians by inserting very fine needles into the skin at certain points of the body called acupoints. This stimulates specific acupoints along the skin and can be used for a broad range of health conditions, including CP/CPPS. Experts believe that stimulating these points enhances the body’s function and promotes the body’s own healing.
You might feel nervous about trying acupuncture because it involves needles, but rest assured that acupuncture needles are not be painful and are not like much thicker hypodermic needles. Acupuncture needles are extremely thin, sterilized, and only used once and then disposed of. It is normal to feel apprehensive during the first treatment because of the unfamiliarity, but you should not expect to experience any pain.
You might feel some temporary discomfort when undergoing dry needling through tender muscular trigger points. Once the needles are left alone for about 20 minutes that discomfort usually disappears, and then acupuncture can actually be very relaxing for patients. A small number of patients who have prostatitis and pelvic pain may experience a temporary exacerbation of their condition or minor flare-ups of old conditions following their first few treatments. After the third treatment or so this also disappears, so be sure to stick with it through those first few visits.
Acupuncture Treatment for Prostatitis — How Does It Work?
More and more mainstream doctors accepting the practice of acupuncture for treating pain. There are a number of studies on acupuncture for prostatitis for improving patients’ quality of life and relieving symptoms of pain, urinary problems, and stress. The studies are generally encouraging that acupuncture is an effective CP/CPPS therapy. Since it is difficult to use a placebo with acupuncture, how do researchers study its effectiveness? They use sham acupuncture as a placebo, which means that patients are told they are receiving acupuncture when they are actually not receiving any treatment.
Acupuncture and other alternative and natural therapies are an important part of a holistic approach to CP/CPPS called the NPAT treatment program. Developed by Dr. Geo Espinosa, a naturopathic urologist, NPAT stands for:
- Natural treatments (ALCAT, elimination diets, and wheat-free diets)
- Phytotherapy (pollen and quercetin together with probiotics)
- Alternative Treatments (acupuncture, prostate massage, pelvic rehabilitation and therapy)
- Total body (exercise, chronic stress management, lifestyle)
Dr. Geo has a specialized acupuncture technique that involves the following:
- Dry needling of muscular trigger points
- Needling other points known to help with prostatitis—most of which are highlighted in the below studies
- Inserting needles on “stress points”
When Dr. Geo treats prostatitis in his patients he first identifies muscle pelvic trigger points. Trigger points are hyperirritable points located in taut bands of either skeletal muscle or fascia. When they are compressed, the trigger points cause local tenderness and referred pain. A dry needle is inserted into the skin and muscle directly at a myofascial trigger point. Then the acupuncturist identifies other traditional acupuncture points that are used for prostatitis and inserts them with needles as well. A patient usually starts to experience results after undergoing 6 to 12 acupuncture treatments, performed once or twice a week.
For decades, people have successfully used acupuncture for stress, and this can help in chronic prostatitis patients because stress is closely associated with prostatitis and is responsible for making symptoms worse. A recent study shows that acupuncture inhibits the excess release of stress chemicals, showing us how the acupuncture helps relieve stress.
Georgetown University Medical Center published a study on the stress response in April 2013. Researchers used electroacupuncture on rats to study the levels of proteins and hormones that humans and rodents secrete that are involved in the stress response. They chose electroacupuncture because allowed researchers to be sure each animal received the same dose. (Eshkevari, L.) The 10-day experiment involved the following groups:
- a control group that was not stressed and did not receive acupuncture;
- a group that was stressed each day for an hour and did not receive acupuncture;
- a group that was stressed and received sham acupuncture near the tail;
- an experimental group, which was stressed and received acupuncture on the Zusanli spot, which is reported to relieve stress (and in humans is located below the knee).
The researchers found that electronic acupuncture blocked the chronic stress-induced elevations of hormones and NPY, which is a peptide secreted by the sympathetic nervous system. In the experimental group, the NPY levels were reduced to close to the level of the control group. For rats who received the sham acupuncture, they experienced an elevation of the hormones similar to that of the stress-only animals. The rats who were stressed but did not receive acupuncture to the Zusanli spot had high levels of NPY. Because stress is considered one of the major contributors to pelvic muscle tension and CPPS, using acupuncture for prostatitis to reduce stress may help men who have stress-induced prostatitis.
Other studies that involve acupuncture for prostatitis include the following:
- A 2015 Turkish study on men with CPPS randomly assigned patients to receive either nonsacral acupuncture or antibiotics with nonsteroids. Both groups experienced decreases in pain, but the acupuncture group had more sustained reductions in the National Institutes of Health Chronic Prostatitis Symptom Index NIH/CPSI.
- The American Journal of Medicine evaluated acupuncture and sham acupuncture in men with CP/CPPS. Researchers arbitrarily assigned 89 men to undergo half an hour of either actual or sham acupuncture twice a week for 10 weeks. Following the 10-week study, 32 (73%) of the 44 men who had real acupuncture responded favorably, compared with 21 (47%) of the 45 men in the sham group. The findings were based on reactions to the NIH/CPSI. Fourteen (32%) men who had undergone real acupuncture still showed favorable signs six months after completing the study, compared to only six (13%) in the sham group.
- A Canadian study on acupuncture’s effect on urination, pain, and overall quality of life in CP/CPPS patients involved 12 men who had not previously responded to standard treatment (antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, or alpha-blockers). The men had acupuncture two times per week for six weeks. They addressed 30 acupuncture points during each session. Based on their NIH/CPSI scores, the 12 men reported marked progress in regard to pain, urinary symptoms, and their quality of life after about 33 weeks of follow-up. The study’s authors said, “Acupuncture appears to be a safe, effective, and durable treatment in improving symptoms in, and the quality of life of, men with chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome refractory to treatment.”
- In August 2011, a review of the benefits of acupuncture for CP/CPPS stated there is “increasing evidence that acupuncture could be a safe and effective treatment in managing CP/CPPS.” The reviewers said their assessment of clinical research of acupuncture for CP/CPPS “could encourage healthcare providers and urologists to apply acupuncture for managing pains of CP/CPPS with standard treatment.”
- In 2009, a study that involved 39 men with CP/CPPS was published. The men were randomly put into three groups: the first group received advice, performed exercise, and had 12 sessions of electroacupuncture (EA); the second group received advice, performed exercise, and had 12 sessions of sham EA; and the third group received advice and exercised for six weeks. For the men who received EA, six acupuncture points were targeted. The CP/CPPS symptoms were determined using the NIH/CPSI. After six weeks, the NIH-CPSI score had dropped markedly in the EA group compared to the other two groups. The men who received EA experienced significant improvements in their pain-related symptoms. All 12 men in the EA group had at least a six-point drop in their NIH/CPSI score, compared with two in the sham group (16.7%) and three (25%) in the group that was given advice and exercise. Researchers concluded that EA therapy demonstrated therapeutic effects, principally pain relief.
- A Columbia University study involved 10 CP/CPPS patients who had gotten no relief from other previous treatments. The men received ear and full-body acupuncture two times a week for six weeks. After three and six weeks the men reported less pain, and they retained that measure of relief for another six weeks after treatment concluded.
- In China, a meta-analysis was conducted and published in 2008. That review involved 13 case-control studies on acupuncture for CP/CPPS before August 2007 and involved a total of 861 cases and 738 controls. They found that overall, the effectiveness and cure rates were significantly higher among men who had received acupuncture than among controls.
Side Effects of Acupuncture
Receiving acupuncture treatment for prostatitis is considered a safe alternative to treatment with drugs. Side effects of acupuncture are rare and may include bacterial infections at the site of needle insertion. This would relate to poor training and hygiene of the acupuncturist. Hepatitis is the most common infection reported from acupuncture. Only go to qualified practitioners who use Clean Needle Technique. Serious adverse events are rare but may occur.
As NPAT demonstrates, acupuncture treatment for prostatitis is a therapy that can be combined with other treatments. Because CP/CPPS often stems from areas in the body outside of the prostate itself, many men find the most relief from their prostatitis in following a multimodal approach, especially one that involves stress reduction and other alternative prostatitis treatments.
References for Acupuncture Treatment for Prostatitis:
Eshkevari, L. et al. Acupuncture Blocks Cold Stress-Induced Increase in Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis in Rat. Journal of Endocrinology, 2013; DOI: 10.1530/JOE-12-0404.
Lee S.H. Use of acupuncture as a treatment method for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndromes. Curr Urol Rep. 2011 Aug;12(4):288-96.
Lee S.H. Electroacupuncture relieves pain in men with chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome: three-arm randomized trial. Urology. 2009 May;73(5):1036-41.
Lee, S.W. Acupuncture versus sham acupuncture for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain. Am J Med. 2008 Jan;121(1):79.e1-7.
Schaeffer, E. Effectiveness of Acupuncture on Chronic Prostatitis-Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome Category IIIB Patients: A Prospective, Randomized, Nonblinded, Clinical Trial. Journal of the American Urological Association. 2015 Oct; 194(4):1007–1008.