More and more people are exploring complementary therapies for a range of disorders, and some of these therapies are entering the mainstream. Acupuncture is in use in a number of NHS clinics and hospitals in the UK. It is most notable for the benefits for musculoskeletal pain management and certain types of migraines. We have done some research here at Numan to see whether it has had any use in the management of erectile dysfunction (ED).
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 sterilised, single-use surgical steel. They’re inserted just under the skin, or slightly deeper into the muscle, and left in place sometimes for as long as half an hour. They may be placed in a dozen different sites (not into your genitalia). A tingling or dull ache is usual.
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 on the use of acupuncture as a treatment for ED has been inconclusive thus far. One trial suggests that acupuncture may be useful as 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. It is always advisable to seek the advice of your GP before seeking any complementary therapies.
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 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, particularly pain management. However, in ED specifically, it is as yet unclear whether this treatment is of benefit.