Acupuncture for Raynaud’s Phenomenon
Sufferers of Raynaud’s find their fingers and toes becoming cold and discoloured, often during times of stress or in cold conditions. Fingers and toes may become first white, then blue and finally red. It includes Raynaud’s disease (or primary Raynaud’s) in which the cause is unknown to conventional medicine, and Raynaud’s syndrome (secondary Raynaud’s) where the cause is known; such causes include:
Connective tissue disorders e.g. rheumatoid arthritis
Side effects of various pharmaceutical drugs
Repeated exposure to cold temperatures
Raynaud’s Phenomenon and TCM
In Chinese Medicine the symptoms of Raynaud’s suggest that the person’s Qi is not reaching their extremities. This may be for a number of different reasons; for instance, it may be that the Qi is not flowing freely, what is called Qi Stagnation. This is a common consequence of stress or emotional frustration, we tighten up and the Qi can no longer flow, so it has trouble reaching the extremities in sufficient abundance to keep them warm. In this case one might expect the symptoms would be worse at times of heightened stress, and there may also be other symptoms of Qi stagnation such as indigestion, headache and irritability.
Acupuncture is particularly effective at restoring the smooth flow of the Qi, and Chi Kung will also be a great help. Tight shoulders are also common with Qi Stagnation, and treatment to relax these may also help improve circulation to the hands.
Finding ways to manage stress more effectively is also important, something which your therapist will be able to discuss with you. In particular it is often important to find ways of venting our emotions; emotions which get bottled up inside for one reason or another make our Qi stagnate.
Another possibility is that our body’s ‘thermostat’ is not set properly; in this case we will feel cold in our core as well as at the extremities, although these will be worse. We may be too cold because of an inherited imbalance, or perhaps because of exposure to cold conditions; eating food which is not sufficiently warming can also be a factor. Here treatment will aim to boost the warming and invigorating aspect of Qi, what in Chinese Medicine is called the ‘Yang’ (as opposed to ‘Yin’). This can be achieved with acupuncture and moxibustion, perhaps with the support of herbal therapy and dietary modifications.
It’s worth stressing, however, that each patient is unique and no two patients with Raynaud’s are likely to get the same treatment, which will be customised to deal with the individual and their own particular Qi configurations.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Raynaud’s Phenomenon?
According to the World Health Organization1 the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment for primary Raynaud’s has been shown. For example, a German study2 of 33 Raynaud’s patients over the course of 23 winter weeks showed a 63% reduction in attacks, and an increased capillary blood flow in the hands.
1 WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials
2 Appiah R. et al (1997) Treatment of Primary Raynaud’s Syndrome with Traditional Chinese Acupuncture Journal of Internal Medicine 241(2) 119-24