Can Acupuncture Help My Psoriasis?
Medically reviewed by Allison Truong, M.D.
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When it comes to psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, people are willing to try a variety of methods to get relief from the scaling, itching, redness, and sore joints. Whether it’s UV light therapy, topical creams, or prescription medications, there are plenty of valid options available via Western medicine. But what if alternative therapies can provide some relief, too?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice whereby professionals insert very thin needles into the skin in “key meridians” of the body. This is believed to stimulate the central nervous system, and it’s said to alleviate everything from migraines to mental illness.
“It’s not a magic cure-all, but I saw a dramatic improvement in my flare-ups within two sessions,” says Karen Kapnick, a media entrepreneur and television producer in New York City, who’s lived with psoriasis since 2016.
So, could acupuncture work for you? There are a few things to consider before giving it a shot.
What Practitioners Say
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that says acupuncture can be helpful for relieving psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis symptoms, and it may be due to its stress-relieving powers.
“Because acupuncture relieves stress, it can definitely be used to treat psoriasis and minimize flares,” says Ashley Magovern, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist who owns Manhattan Dermatology in Manhattan Beach, California. “Stress is a well-described psoriasis trigger, and more and more patients are realizing that lifestyle modifications can play a significant role in treatment.”
For many people with psoriasis, acupuncture isn’t likely to replace medical treatment, but it is useful as an adjunct therapy, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).
“Acupuncture is a good way to help balance and improve your overall immune system,” says Donna R. Hernández, L.Ac., a licensed and board-certified acupuncturist practicing at The Yinova Center in New York City. “Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that requires treating the root cause of the condition, as well as the skin or joint condition, so acupuncture can prove very effective.” In people with psoriatic arthritis, Hernández says the practice can lower inflammation in the joints and warm them to relieve stiffness.
What the Research Says
While science hasn’t officially proven acupuncture is directly effective for improving psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, there are some studies that show its promise.
In a small study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science, 80 people with psoriasis were treated with a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. After five acupuncture sessions, there was a 91.3 percent effectiveness rate in relieving psoriasis symptoms.
A review of several studies published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment concluded that “acupuncture therapies for psoriasis are simple, convenient, and effecting, with long-lasting therapeutic effects with minimal side effects and toxicity.”
The practice has also been shown to improve function and quality of life for some people with joint pain.
And while researchers say more rigorous and detailed studies need to be done, this alternative therapy is worth considering for psoriasis relief.
Things to Know Before You Go
Acupuncture should always be performed by a licensed professional. The NPF recommends finding one through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
There are virtually no side effects to acupuncture—the rare complications that have been reported were due to improper use or nonsterile needles. There’s also a chance new psoriasis could develop in locations where you receive acupuncture, due to the Koebner phenomenon—the appearance of new skin lesions on previously unaffected skin due to trauma.
Best of all, the needle therapy doesn’t seem to interfere with any other courses of treatment. Hernández says that because there’s no medicine being administered, it isn’t contraindicated with any medical treatments and therefore can go hand-in-hand with them.
Acupuncture may even help systemic medications work their way through the body more efficiently, says Kiya Hunter, L.Ac., a licensed acupuncturist practicing in Phoenix, Arizona. “I’ve had patients come in who were also using steroid ointments or drugs to help with their condition who saw a much faster improvement when adding in acupuncture.”
Despite the needles, many people say it’s painless, too. In fact, acupuncturists we spoke to said most of their patients fall asleep during treatment after the needles have been inserted. If someone does experience minor soreness afterward, it’s usually because they are massively inflamed and/or dehydrated.
“I recommend patients come in very well hydrated,” says Hunter.
It’s also important to note that acupuncture can be costly (up to to $200 a session) so be sure to ask your provider if they accept insurance, and check with your health insurance company to see if it’s a treatment they’ll cover. You may also want to see if acupuncture is offered at a local community center that charges less or offers batch session discounts.
What Results to Expect
According to Hernández, people who undergo acupuncture for psoriasis can expect to see a reduction in redness, decreased itching and inflammation, and also a reduction in the size of their patches or scales. With chronic conditions, it will usually take anywhere from eight to 10 treatments to begin to see some change, and she advises coming in immediately at the start of a flare-up for the best results. Hunter says you should expect to consistently visit your acupuncturist for a period of about three months. A common frequency is once per week, but treatment plans can vary from person to person, says Hernández.
“During an active flare-up, with treatment, you’ll notice an immediate reduction in stress, inflammation, itching, and a stop to any spreading,” says Hunter. “During healing, you may notice the shedding of the flaky, irritated skin and a reduction in any redness and acne. Over the course of treatment, your skin starts to clear up for good.”
Of course, it’s always important to let your primary care doctor and dermatologist know before trying an alternative treatment like acupuncture. The acupuncturist may also opt to prescribe a topical cream or ointment to soothe the treated areas, so run those past the doctor, too.
Experts say it’s also important to treat other contributing factors that might be leading to flare-ups, such as stress, metabolism changes, dietary and/or sleep issues, adds Hernández. Lifestyle changes combined with traditional and alternative therapies may be the winning formula when it comes to happily coexisting with your condition.
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