Acupuncture for Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disabling neurological condition which affects about one person in 700 in the UK. For some of these people, MS follows a progressive course, whilst for others there are periods of remission interspersed with relapse. Western medicine considers it due to damage to a protective sheath which surrounds the nerve fibres in the central nervous system, which interferes with the passage of information between the brain and other areas of the body.
This can result in symptoms such as:
Bladder and bowel problems
Balance and walking difficulties
Forgetfulness and poor concentration
Multiple Sclerosis and TCM
TCM cannot claim to completely cure MS, but it can offer considerable help in slowing down the progression of the disease and alleviating symptoms. This is especially so if treatment begins as soon as possible after diagnosis. Treatment in TCM is seen as a partnership between therapist and patient, and is most successful if the patient is prepared to make changes to lifestyle and dietary habits as discussed with the therapist.
The early stages of MS in TCM are usually considered to be due to the disease factor of Dampness. Dampness in TCM is something that clogs up our system, obstructing the flow of Qi and causing a characteristic sense of heaviness and perhaps swelling. The numbness of a limb which is often the first symptom of MS is usually due to Dampness obstructing the flow of Qi in the meridians of that limb.
TCM treatment at this stage will aim to dispel Dampness and restore the circulation of Qi, using acupuncture points both on the affected limbs and perhaps at specific other places which are known to resolve Dampness. You will also be advised to modify your diet to avoid foods which can lead to Dampness in the body, including dairy products for instance (interestingly, some studies suggest MS is more common in areas where people consume a lot of dairy produce). Chi Kung exercises and herbal therapy may also be prescribed.
If MS has progressed beyond this initial stage, it usually manifests in TCM as a deficiency of the Qi of the digestive system. This leads amongst other things to weakness and flaccidity of the limbs and difficulty in walking. Treatment here will involve acupuncture and herbal therapy to boost the digestive Qi, as well as acupuncture at specific points on the limbs which help to strengthen and nourish the Qi of those limbs.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis?
Research on Chinese Medical treatment for MS is in its infancy, but in a pilot study conducted by the MS Clinic at the University of British Columbia in Canada, 566 MS patients reported using alternative medicine, with acupuncture the most commonly used. Respondents reported acupuncture helping with symptoms such as pain, spasticity, impaired bladder and bowel function and tingling and numbness.1
1 Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, available at http://www.mssociety.ca/en/research/RG990505.htm