How Acupuncture Is Helpful for MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological disorder that affects about 2.8 million people worldwide. It impacts different regions of the brain and spinal cord, causing a variety of symptoms including motor, sensory, or visual impairment; bowel, bladder, and sexual dysfunction; fatigue; cognitive impairment; and depression.

MS should be treated with conventional, evidence-based treatments, such as medication. Some people choose complementary treatments like acupuncture along with conventional treatments. While there is not enough evidence for or against people with MS using acupuncture, it is generally considered safe to try as long as it is conducted by a trained, experienced practitioner using sterile single-use needles.

Read on to learn the potential benefits of acupuncture for MS and what the research says.

Woman getting acupuncture

Science Photo Library - ADAM GAULT / Getty Images

What Is Acupuncture? 

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine. It is based on the theory that energy (qi) flows through pathways (meridians) in the body and that an imbalance or disruption of this flow causes disease.

During acupuncture treatment, thin, disposable metal needles are inserted into points along the meridians to stimulate specific locations on the skin and change the flow of energy.

There are about 400 acupuncture points on the body, with approximately four to 12 stimulated per treatment.

It typically takes about six to 10 sessions to see if the treatment is going to help.

What Is Electroacupuncture?

Electroacupuncture involves pulses of a weak electrical current being sent through acupuncture needles into points in the skin. The benefits of electroacupuncture are being studied, including its impact on pain.

How It Works

Scientists have proposed theories to explain (in Western terms) how acupuncture may relieve pain. One theory is that acupuncture may cause the release of opioids (chemical messengers) that decrease pain. Acupuncture's ability to decrease stress is another theory. A third theory suggests it may have a placebo effect (improvements happen because the person strongly believes they will).

One study used a special type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine if acupuncture at certain sites caused brain activity changes. They observed changes in several regions, suggesting that multiple processes are involved in the pain-relieving effects of acupuncture, but the results are still not well-understood.

More research needs to be done to give confident explanations of how acupuncture works.

Benefits of Acupuncture

Research suggests that acupuncture may offer benefits for:

These studies did not include people with MS, so it can't be assumed people with MS would necessarily experience the same effects.

Is It Safe for People With MS? 

No large-scale controlled clinical trials have been conducted to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the use of acupuncture in people with MS.

Before starting acupuncture, talk with your healthcare provider to make sure it is safe for you.

Does It Help With MS?

Small studies suggest acupuncture may help with some MS-related symptoms, but bigger trials are needed to confirm these findings.

There is no evidence that acupuncture can slow the progression of disability in people with MS or reduce the frequency of MS exacerbations (relapses, attacks, or flare-ups).

Whether acupuncture can be considered effective for any or some MS-related symptoms, it should always be used as a complementary therapy alongside conventional medicine, under the guidance of a licensed healthcare professional. Acupuncture should never be used as a standalone treatment for MS.


Two small-scale studies, one of 14 individuals with MS and one with 20 people with MS, found that acupuncture reduced fatigue in the participants after eight treatments and 12 treatments, respectively.


A study of 31 participants with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis found that the group who was provided electroacupunture treatments experienced reduced pain at both the three- and six-month follow ups. The group who received the sham (fake) treatment experienced improved pain sensation at the three-month mark, but it was not sustained to the six-month follow up.

Impaired Gait

A 2017 study of 20 individuals with MS who had walking difficulties/gait (walking pattern) impairment showed a 95% improvement in walking (as measured by a 25-foot timed walk) with acupuncture compared with 45% improvement with sham treatment.


There is very little research on the effect of acupuncture on spasticity (muscle stiffness) in people with MS. One study found that acupuncture had a positive effect on spasticity for its only participant (a 65-year-old man). In another study on four women with MS, spasticity was improved after acupuncture in one of the four participants.

Mental Health

There is some evidence that acupuncture may help with depression, such as a 2020 study of 60 participants who had moderate depression. This study found that electroacupuncture combined with antidepressants was more effective in improving depressive symptoms than antidepressants alone.

More research is needed to determine if acupuncture can improve mental health symptoms in people with MS.

Bladder Function

A Canadian preliminary study with 41 participants found that acupuncture may improve bladder function in people with MS, but the effect varied depending on which acupuncturist was performing the procedure.

How Long Does Acupuncture Take to Work?

It generally takes about six to 10 sessions to see if the treatment is effective.

Sessions are usually once or twice weekly. The length of a complete course of treatment depends on the person, their underlying condition, and their symptoms. For people with MS and other chronic conditions, a longer treatment course may be needed.

Can It Make MS Worse?

It's not clear how acupuncture affects the immune system. Some studies have suggested that acupuncture has an enhancing effect on the immune system, what others show an inhibiting effect or show no effect at all.

MS is associated with over-activity of some parts of the immune system. Without clarity on how acupuncture affects the immune system, it's not possible make clear determinations on the benefits and risks of acupuncture for people with MS.

What Are the Risks to Acupuncture?

Generally speaking, acupuncture is considered safe and is well-tolerated, provided the acupuncturist is well-trained and proper protocols are followed (such as the use of sterile, disposable needles).

Over a 20-year period, 216 serious complications from acupuncture have been reported worldwide, and tended to be associated with poorly trained acupuncturists.

There are some people who should avoid acupuncture, or at least make sure to check with their healthcare provider first. This includes people who:

  • Have heart valves that are damaged or prosthetic (due to risk of infection)
  • Are taking blood-thinning medication, such as Coumadin (warfarin) (could lead to bruising or bleeding complications)
  • Have pacemakers (electroacupuncture could cause heart rhythm abnormalities)
  • Have asthma, if moxibustion (burning of mugwort leaves) is used during the acupuncture session

Always check with your healthcare provider before starting any complementary treatment, including acupuncture.


Acupuncture is a complementary treatment that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the skin.

Some studies suggest it may have health benefits, such as pain relief, but the mechanism behind how it may work is not well-understood.

There is a lack of large, good quality studies on how acupuncture affects people with MS. Smaller studies suggest it may help some MS-related symptoms, but larger studies are needed to confirm these results.

Acupuncture is generally considered safe, but there may be risks for people with MS that have not yet been discovered. Always check with your healthcare provider before starting acupuncture.

Acupuncture should never be used as a primary or standalone treatment for MS, only as a complementary treatment alongside conventional medicine and in consultation with your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell 

If you have MS-related symptoms that are not well-managed by conventional treatment alone, it might be worth considering trying acupuncture as part of your treatment plan. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if acupuncture is a safe choice for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can acupuncture help reverse MS?

    There is no evidence that acupuncture can reverse or slow the progression of MS or reduce the frequency of exacerbations.

  • Can acupuncture improve MS walking?

    At least one study suggests that acupuncture may improve walking for people with MS, but the study was too small to make that conclusion. More research is needed.

  • What therapy is best for multiple sclerosis?

    There is no cure for MS, but there are treatments available, such as medications, that can slow the progression and/or address symptoms.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Namjooyan F, Ghanavati R, Majdinasab N, Jokari S, Janbozorgi M. Uses of complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2014;4(3):145-152. doi:10.4103/2225-4110.136543

  2. Khodaie F, Abbasi N, Kazemi Motlagh AH, Zhao B, Naser Moghadasi A. Acupuncture for multiple sclerosis: A literature review. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders. 2022;60:103715. doi:10.1016/j.msard.2022.103715

  3. Multiple Sclerosis Trust. Acupuncture.

  4. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Acupuncture.

  5. National Cancer Institute. Electroacupuncture.

  6. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Acupuncture and MS: the basic facts.

  7. Quispe-Cabanillas JG, Damasceno A, von Glehn F, et al. Impact of electroacupuncture on quality of life for patients with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis under treatment with immunomodulators: A randomized study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012;12(1):209. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-209

  8. Criado MB, Santos MJ, Machado J, Gonçalves AM, Greten HJ. Effects of acupuncture on gait of patients with multiple sclerosis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2017;23(11):852-857. doi:10.1089/acm.2016.0355

  9. Zhu Y, Yang Y, Li J. Does acupuncture help patients with spasticity? A narrative review. Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. 2019;62(4):297-301. doi:10.1016/

  10. Li W, Sun M, Yin X, Lao L, Kuang Z, Xu S. The effect of acupuncture on depression and its correlation with metabolic alterations: A randomized controlled trial. Medicine. 2020;99(43):e22752. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000022752

By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.