Acupuncture for Ulcerative Colitis (UC)

Acupuncture is a style of traditional Chinese medicine that has been used in the treatment of pain for thousands of years.

It can be used as a complementary therapy for a variety of chronic conditions, including ulcerative colitis (UC).

People with UC, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting the large intestine, may find acupuncture beneficial in managing symptoms, including pain and gastrointestinal (GI, the stomach and intestines) symptoms.

This article will discuss the basics of acupuncture, how the treatment may be beneficial for people with UC and other GI-related issues, and its known side effects.


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More About Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine. There are 2,000 acupuncture points in the body that are connected by pathways called meridians.

The pathways connecting the acupuncture points make energy known as Qi that contributes to the overall health of your body. A disruption to the flow of Qi can cause disease.

When acupuncture needles are inserted into certain areas of the body, it can improve the flow of Qi throughout your body and improve your health.

Acupuncture involves using needles about as thin as a strand of hair to penetrate your body's tissues. The needles are inserted into the skin by a practitioner.

Research has indicated acupuncture is an effective complementary therapy for a variety of conditions. Acupuncture may also involve using other techniques to certain areas of the body. These include:

  • Acupressure
  • Friction
  • Suction (cupping)
  • Heat (moxibustion)
  • Electromagnetic energy

Benefits of Acupuncture for Ulcerative Colitis and Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Acupuncture can be used for the relief of a number of conditions.

It's believed to be helpful in the treatment of conditions like UC. Studies suggest acupuncture can reduce inflammation and disease activity in people living with an IBD, such as UC and Crohn's disease, which can affect the entire GI tract.

Acupuncture is also beneficial for people with IBD. It can help with:

Studies suggest the use of acupuncture with heat, known as moxibustion, can improve a number of GI symptoms, including:


Moxibustion, also called moxa treatment, is a traditional Chinese therapy that consists of burning small cones of dried mugwort on certain parts of the body.

Acupuncture is also known to be effective in the treatment of digestive issues like:

How Acupuncture Reduces Pain and Inflammation

Acupuncture can be used to relieve pain stemming from a variety of conditions.

It's said that acupuncture works by releasing endorphins into the body. Endorphins help reduce pain.

Applying pressure to acupoints throughout the body triggers the central nervous system. This is believed to cause the release of chemicals into the brain, muscles, and spinal cord that stimulate healing mechanisms within the body.

Studies have also found acupuncture can trigger the production of cortisol in the body. This is a hormone that helps control inflammation.

In the treatment of IBD, studies have found the use of acupuncture along with moxibustion reduced inflammation in people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

How Acupuncture Affects Stress and Mood

When you're living with a chronic condition like UC, it's normal to experience feelings of depression and/or anxiety. As well as being a useful tool in the treatment of physical symptoms, acupuncture may also be used to address symptoms related to stress and mood.

Acupuncture can benefit emotional health issues like:

Improving Your Mood With IBD

Research suggests that when used as a treatment for people with IBD experiencing depression, acupuncture has a similar impact as antidepressants in helping with symptoms.

Possible Side Effects

Overall, acupuncture is considered a safe practice. However, it does carry some risks.

The most common side effects experienced by those who have tried acupuncture are:

  • Minor bleeding
  • Pain
  • Bruising

In rare cases, fainting may occur. This can be due to needle shock. This is more common in those who:

  • Are nervous
  • Are new to acupuncture
  • Have a history of fainting

What is needle shock?

A possible side effect of acupuncture is needle shock.
This is rare, but is more common in those who:

  • Are nervous around needles
  • Are extremely fatigued
  • Have low blood sugar

Needle shock can cause feelings of chilliness, feeling faint, and nausea.

A small number of people trying acupuncture may find their GI symptoms become worse before they become better. Typically, this is part of the healing process, however, you should contact your practitioner if symptoms become severe or last for more than two days.


A form of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been used in the treatment of pain for many years. It can be used as a complementary therapy for a variety of chronic conditions, including UC.

Acupuncture involves using needles about as thin as a strand of hair to penetrate tissue. The needles are inserted into the skin by a practitioner. Research suggests that acupuncture can reduce inflammation and disease activity in people living with an IBD like UC.

Acupuncture can also help you manage aspects of your emotional health and help improve symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Risks associated with acupuncture include minor bleeding, pain, and bruising.

If you're considering acupuncture as a complementary therapy to your UC treatment, consult with your healthcare provider. They can help you determine if it's the right fit for you and how to get started.

A Word From Verywell

Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years for the treatment of symptoms related to pain and inflammation. The practice may be used as a complementary therapy for a variety of chronic conditions, including UC.

Studies suggest acupuncture may help reduce inflammation and symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain, which could be beneficial for those living with IBD. If you're considering acupuncture to help manage symptoms of UC, speak with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the most common treatment for ulcerative colitis?

    There's no cure for UC, however, treatment options are available. The type of treatment will vary from person to person and can include:

    • Medication
    • Changes to diet or nutrition
    • Surgery
  • Does acupuncture help with inflammation?

    Acupuncture can help reduce inflammation by triggering a hormone called cortisol to be produced in the body. This hormone helps control inflammation.

    Research suggests the use of heat and acupuncture may help reduce inflammation in those with IBD.

  • What are the disadvantages of acupuncture?

    Generally, acupuncture is believed to be a safe practice. It's possible there will be side effects, including bruising, minor bleeding, and pain.

    In rarer cases, fainting may occur. Some people may find their symptoms worsen with acupuncture before improving. This may indicate that the healing process has begun.

    However, if symptoms become severe or don't resolve within two days, you should speak with your practitioner or primary healthcare provider.

  • How often should you receive acupuncture?

    How often you should get acupuncture will vary based on the condition being treated, the severity of symptoms, and how your body responds to the therapy.

    Your practitioner will be able to advise how frequently you should have appointments.

    Some people may not notice a benefit from acupuncture right away. Therefore, its recommended to try at least five sessions of acupuncture.

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.
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  2. Wilkinson J, Faleiro R. Acupuncture in pain managementContinuing Education in Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain. 2007;7(4):135-138. doi:10.1093/bjaceaccp/mkm021

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  4. Song G, Fiocchi C, Achkar JP. Acupuncture in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Volume 25, Issue 7, July 2019, Pages 1129–1139, 

  5. Harvard Medical School. Relieving pain with acupuncture.

  6. Arthritis Foundation. Acupuncture for Arthritis.

  7. GI Society. Acupuncture and Digestion.

  8. University of Minnesota. What is acupuncture?

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  10. Cleveland Clinic. Acupuncture.