More and more people are exploring complementary therapies for a range of disorders. Some of these therapies are slowly becoming mainstream.
The guidance from the medical community currently is that if patients perceive some benefit from a complementary treatment, and if there is no evidence that it does harm, it is a reasonable thing to try. Acupuncture is one of these treatments. It is in use in many NHS clinics and hospitals in the UK, for a variety of conditions, though mostly for pain management.
What is acupuncture exactly?
Acupuncture is an adaptation of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves the insertion of very fine needles into your skin at particular points in your body.
What is it thought to do in the body?
Traditional practitioners describe this as a way of balancing the flow of energy or life force (Qi) through your body. Western practitioners tend to view acupuncture as a way of stimulating nerves, muscles and connective tissue, and possibly triggering the release of your body's natural (endogenous) painkillers.
What happens during an acupuncture session?
A typical acupuncture session lasts about half an hour. It’s usual to undergo more than one session. The needles are extremely fine, only a few centimetres long, and normally made of sterilized, single-use surgical steel. They’re inserted just under the skin, or slightly deeper, and left in place sometimes for as long as half an hour. They may be placed in a dozen different sites. (They are not inserted into your genitalia.) Most people do not report feeling pain.
Reported side effects are not common and are generally mild. These include occasional pain, bruising or bleeding at the insertion sites, drowsiness and feeling dizzy.
Does acupuncture work for ED?
Research evidence is not yet clear that acupuncture alone improves ED. One trial suggests that acupuncture may be useful as an adjuvant therapy for ED (i.e. in addition to another treatment) caused by a psychological problem . The safety of acupuncture for ED is unclear because there are too few studies on this. New research is underway, however.
If you’re considering acupuncture for ED, it’s essential to seek an accredited practitioner. The British Medical Acupuncture Society maintains a register of qualified practitioners.
If you have a bleeding disorder, or are taking blood-thinning medication, this would make you unsuitable for acupuncture. You should also inform your practitioner if you’re have a pacemaker.
The bottom line
Performed by a professional, acupuncture is a generally safe treatment and may be effective for a number of different symptoms. However, in ED specifically, it is unclear whether this treatment is of benefit.