Can acupuncture help with psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis? It might, but the research is mixed. Here are some acupuncture points that have helped some people.
Acupuncture appears to have some benefits for some people — especially for helping to reduce pain.
It’s also quite safe, with few to no side effects in most people. So if you’re looking for a complementary treatment to try, acupuncture could be a good option.
But which points should your licensed acupuncturist target?
The best way to find out is by talking with a licensed acupuncture practitioner who can recommend specific points based on your PsA symptoms and their locations on your body. In other words, don’t try this at home.
There’s no consistent list of acupuncture points we could find recommended for everyone with PsA.
Why? Because acupuncture is fundamentally about treating a person holistically and individually, meaning each person with PsA is evaluated and diagnosed according to the principles of traditional East Asian medicine.
An acupuncture practitioner evaluates the underlying causes of your condition, your constitutional makeup, and your individually presenting symptoms to choose the right acupuncture points for you.
It’s very different from how Western medicine works, in which every person with the same condition is given a similar treatment.
As a result, studies that have looked at acupuncture in PsA and other joint conditions have used a wide variety of acupuncture points.
Still, we figured you might be curious to know some specifics. We’ve collected a list of acupuncture points used in several key studies, along with what practitioners use them for.
Acupuncture is a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy in which a trained therapist inserts small needles into particular points on your skin, called acupuncture points or acupoints, with the aim to stimulate muscles, connective tissue, and nerves.
Many people use it to relieve pain but also to help with a wide variety of other health issues.
People have practiced acupuncture for over 2,500 years as part of traditional Chinese medicine. Today it’s practiced in at least 103 countries, and more than 6% of U.S. adults have tried it.
Licensed acupuncturists say qi flows through 20 invisible streams in the body, called meridians. Acupuncture points are placed at specific points along these meridians.
There are more than 2,000 acupuncture points, and each is thought to have different effects.
Acupuncturists traditionally insert the needles with their hands and sometimes manipulate them, such as by twirling them during treatment.
There are several other types of acupuncture, including:
Researchers are still working to correlate modern medical knowledge with ancient ideas of meridians and acupuncture points.
Research in 2002 suggests acupuncture points may be sites of convergence in a network of connective tissue throughout the body.
Studies have shown that acupuncture may help in a few ways, especially with pain.
Acupuncture rarely hurts since the needles are so fine.
Some say it feels like tingling or heaviness where the needles are inserted.
The short answer is: We don’t know for sure. Not much research has investigated whether acupuncture helps with symptoms of PsA, specifically.
According to Arthritis Australia, some research has found that acupuncture does not help reduce symptoms of arthritis in general.
However, it may be worth a try for its other potential effects, like reducing pain.
Acupuncture may help PsA and other health issues by relieving pain. It has been shown to stimulate the release of your body’s natural pain relievers — endogenous opioids like endorphins.
More robust research from 2019 shows that acupuncture can help reduce chronic lower back pain.
The research on acupuncture and pain shows that the technique can help at least partly because of the placebo effect.
People with certain conditions had reduced pain when they received both real acupuncture and “sham” (fake) acupuncture, in which needles weren’t inserted into the skin. Here are the conditions research shows this has worked for:
This means that the placebo effect of acupuncture may actually help reduce symptoms in some people.
One study found that people with knee osteoarthritis improved when they had more frequent acupuncture treatments or used electroacupuncture.
Some evidence suggests acupuncture may help with joint pain from other kinds of health conditions.
For example, one high quality study from 2018 looked at whether acupuncture helped reduce joint pain in 226 women who were receiving a certain treatment for breast cancer that can cause joint pain as a side effect.
They experienced a significant reduction in joint pain after 12 acupuncture sessions over 6 weeks.
A 2018 review of 43 studies looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The authors found that, across studies, acupuncture helped improve participants’ movement and quality of life. But they noted many of the studies weren’t of good quality.
A study from 2019 suggests acupuncture had many positive effects for people with RA of the hand, including a decreased number of swollen and tender joints.
But acupuncture didn’t help joint pain in other studies.
For example, one 2018 analysis of studies found that acupuncture did not help reduce hip pain in older people with hip osteoarthritis.
A few case studies in people with PsA have shown some promising effects. But since these were observations of individuals, they don’t tell us whether acupuncture will work for people with PsA in general.
In one case study from 2020, a 73-year-old woman with PsA in her fingers received two consecutive treatments that combined acupuncture with curcumin, sasparilla root, and a high dose of vitamin D. After the treatments, she had better range of motion, less stiffness, and less edema.
In this case, it’s unclear whether the effects were due to the acupuncture, the supplements, or something else.
In another case study from 2020, a 17-year-old woman with PsA who experienced a lot of pain related to her condition received 4 weekly acupuncture treatments of 30 minutes each. Over 4 weeks of treatment, her pain completely resolved except at trigger points.
Chronic inflammation is strongly tied to flares in PsA, so taking steps to reduce chronic inflammation may help manage your PsA symptoms.
Research in 2020 has shown that acupuncture is capable of reducing inflammatory compounds in the body, including NF-кB, TNF-α, and C-reactive protein. It may also amplify the anti-inflammatory (read: beneficial) effects of a compound in the body called IL-10.
Right now, there’s no solid answer to this question because there hasn’t been enough research done. One systematic review of 12 studies found overall that it was not effective.
However, the review noted that it included studies that used many different types of acupuncture and similar therapies, and results were inconsistent from one study to the next. Some studies showed that a particular acupuncture therapy helped, while others showed it didn’t.
Other reviews of research have come to similar mixed conclusions — that acupuncture may help some people with psoriasis but may not be effective for others.
Importantly, several reviews noted that the research participants who tried it did not experience negative effects and that acupuncture was low risk.
So even though the research is mixed, it may be worth a try.
Bear with us: It can be tricky to recommend a single set of acupuncture points for everyone with PsA.
Acupuncturists use different acupuncture points depending on the symptoms and their location on the body, among other factors. So studies on the effects of acupuncture and related conditions don’t all use the same set of acupuncture points.
That makes it difficult to figure out if there’s any one set that works. A licensed acupuncturist may only choose about 8–10 for one treatment session.
It’s also important to note that you should never do acupuncture at home. It is unsafe to do so and illegal since it would be practicing medicine without a license. If you want to use these points at home, you can try doing so safely using acupressure massage.
Note that the location descriptions we’ve included for each point below aren’t exact.
Here are a few acupuncture points that researchers have used in studies on people with psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis, and other types of joint pain.
In one of the case studies we touched on earlier, a young woman with severe PsA in her hips, legs, and feet experienced pain relief after she received acupuncture. Her acupuncturist used these acupoints:
One pilot study from 2007 had an experienced acupuncturist treat people with RA.
They used acupuncture points based on the theory of “Bi” syndrome in traditional Chinese medicine, in which needles are inserted at points along channels that cross over areas where the patient is experiencing pain.
It’s worth noting that the acupuncturist chose these points because RA affects the whole body and can cause pain in several joints, similar to PsA. Here are the points they chose:
As you can see, the acupoints in each of these studies are different. The research does not use a consistent set of acupuncture points in people with PsA and other joint issues.
However, the studies above did have a few acupuncture points in common: LI4, GB39, and ST36.
If you’re interested in trying acupuncture for PsA, speak with a licensed acupuncturist about what acupuncture points and other aspects of treatment might work best for you.
Not many, but there are a few risks you should know about.
In general, studies have found people tolerate acupuncture well and that it’s safe.
Serious issues associated with acupuncture may happen in as few as 100,000 needles inserted (across many patients over time), according research reviews.
Here are a couple of issues you still might want to be aware of when you’re deciding whether acupuncture is for you:
If you’re looking for complementary approaches to help with your PsA symptoms, acupuncture is one possibility that may help. It’s considered quite safe with minimal to no side effects.
More research is needed to investigate its effectiveness in people with PsA specifically. That said, acupuncture is known to help reduce pain and symptoms in other conditions, likely because it causes your body to release natural pain-reducing compounds.
And don’t underestimate the power of the placebo effect. Studies suggest acupuncture may induce it, and it can have real benefits, including reducing pain.
If you’re interested in trying acupuncture for PsA, the best way to find acupuncture points that meet your needs is to work with a licensed acupuncturist.
Medically reviewed on June 23, 2023
Have thoughts or suggestions about this article? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.