Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, which leads to severe disability. Although there are treatments such as Rilutek and Radicava that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, they can only slow the progression of symptoms.

There is great scope to supplement these treatments with complementary and alternative therapies. Acupuncture is one such option.

The goal of acupuncture therapy for ALS is to treat bulbar paralysis and paralysis of the upper and lower extremities, and to provide symptomatic relief and improvements in patients’ quality of life.

How acupuncture works

Acupuncture has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. It is based on Taoist philosophy, which suggests that good health depends on uninterrupted blood circulation through all the organs of the body and that disruption in circulation affects normal physiological function.

In acupuncture therapy, fine, sterile metal needles are inserted under the skin along specially designated points along the body called acupoints. This procedure is touted to stimulate the release of natural painkillers in the human body and affect areas in the brain that process pain.

The most commonly used acupuncture techniques in ALS include scalp and spinal acupuncture where fine needles are inserted alongside the governing vessel, which runs up the spine to the head and over the center of the scalp.

In some cases, needle insertion is accompanied by the application of small electric currents (electroacupuncture) or injection of chemicals (acupuncture injection therapy).

Acupuncture in clinical trials 

There are no clinical trials currently testing the effects of acupuncture therapy for ALS specifically. Most of the information available about its potential benefits for ALS symptoms is from clinical case studies and Chinese literature.

A case study in a 55-year-old ALS patient who was treated with two courses of acupuncture therapy over eight weeks showed complete symptomatic relief, thus improving the woman’s quality of life.

In a pilot study, 18 ALS patients were treated with Korean Sa-am acupuncture treatment twice daily for five days. The patients were evaluated before and after treatments for respiratory parameters such as oxygen saturation, end-tidal carbon dioxide (a non-invasive measurement of exhaled carbon dioxide), respiratory rate, pulse rate, and ALS functional rating scale-revised (ALSFRS-R) analyses. The study revealed statistically significant improvements in oxygen saturation and pulse rate. The clinical significance of this was, however, not clear.

Clinical observations show that acupuncture improves muscle strength in the limbs and reduces muscle atrophy and other issues responsible for physical impairments in ALS patients.

In one study, two patients with ALS were treated with four weeks of acupuncture injection therapy with Enercel, which is a combination of several homeopathic medicines as defined by HPUS (homeopathic pharmacopeia of the United States). Enercel is used for several diseases and has been shown to improve immunity, metabolism, and energy flow throughout the body. Both individuals demonstrated significant improvements after treatment in speech and muscle strength in their extremities.

Given these observations, however, specific, well-designed clinical trials and case studies are necessary to confirm the therapeutic use, safety, and efficacy of acupuncture therapy for ALS.

Other details

While acupuncture is considered safe, it is not entirely without risk. Serious adverse events such as cardiac tamponade (accumulation of fluid in perivascular space around the heart), pneumothorax (collapsed lung), and transmission of infections have been recorded. Moreover, nearly 7% to 11% of patients experience pain or bleeding from the therapy.

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ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.