Acupuncture for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is notoriously hard to treat. A growing body of research now suggests, though, that acupuncture may be able to help alleviate some of its many symptoms.

A fair amount of research has been done since the early 2000s. Acupuncture isn't a cure, and it's not likely to bring complete symptom relief, but, when combined with other treatments, it may be part of a regimen that helps you regain functionality and quality of life.

Many of these studies looked at specific acupuncture points and techniques in relation to certain symptoms or abnormalities linked to the condition. Because those don't mean anything to most of us, they won't be discussed in detail here. However, if you'd like to share them with a practitioner, you'll find details of these studies in the Sources section at the end of this article.

Person getting acupuncture treatment
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The Research: Relieving Symptoms

Several studies show that acupuncture may improve both physical and mental fatigue as well as:

  • Health-related quality of life
  • General mental health
  • Physiological function

Some have also shown improvements in:

  • Social function
  • Pain sensation

Various studies listed improvements in:

  • Energy
  • Anorexia
  • Insomnia
  • Amnesia
  • Diarrhea
  • General pain

The number and duration of treatments vary by study. One case study shows improvements in being active without fatigue and the overall mental state of the patient after 10 treatments lasting 30 minutes each. After another 10 treatments, fatigue and heaviness in the limbs had declined. The patient had a total of 50 treatments, and the effects appeared to be lasting at a three-month follow-up.

A 2014 review of medical literature states that there's a high risk of bias in studies of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for ME/CFS; however, researchers said TCM (which included studies involving acupuncture)—alone or in combination with other treatments—appears to be effective at lessening fatigue. They call for larger, well-designed studies to confirm the potential benefit.

This appears to be a significant improvement over a 2011 review stating there was limited evidence for the effectiveness of complementary/alternative treatments (including acupuncture) for relieving ME/CFS symptoms. Meanwhile, a 2010 review of alternative treatments said acupuncture, along with some types of meditation, shows the most promise for future investigation.

A 2012 study compared the steroid prednisone with an acupuncture technique called coiling dragon as well as an additional TCM treatment called cupping. It suggested the TCM treatments were superior to the drug when it came to measures of fatigue.

In at least one study, a technique called warm-needling or moxibustion showed even better results than standard acupuncture when it came to physical and mental fatigue scores.

11 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. Zhang Q, Gong J, Dong H, Xu S, Wang W, Huang G. Acupuncture for chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acupunct Med. 2019;37(4):211-222.  doi:10.1136/acupmed-2017-011582

  2. Frisk J, Källström AC, Wall N, Fredrikson M, Hammar M. Acupuncture improves health-related quality-of-life (HRQoL) and sleep in women with breast cancer and hot flushes. Support Care Cancer. 2012;20(4):715-24.  doi:10.1007/s00520-011-1134-8

  3. Gao DX, Bai XH. [Clinical trial of acupuncture treatment of gastroesophageal reflux cough by needling dorsal segment of the Governor Vessel]. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 2019;44(2):140-3.  doi10.13702/j.1000-0607.170761

  4. Mandıroğlu S, Ozdilekcan C. Impact of Acupuncture on Chronic Insomnia: A Report of Two Cases with Polysomnographic Evaluation. J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2017;10(2):135-138.  doi:10.1016/j.jams.2016.09.018

  5. Zhu L, Ma Y, Ye S, Shu Z. Acupuncture for Diarrhoea-Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Network Meta-Analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018.  doi:10.1155/2018/2890465

  6. Hu JS. Acupuncture treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. Journal of traditional Chinese medicine. 2009 Sep;29(3):234-6.

  7. Wang YY, Li XX, Liu JP, Luo H, Ma LX, Alraek T. Traditional Chinese medicine for chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(4):826-33. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2014.06.004

  8. Alraek T, Lee MS, Choi TY, Cao H, Liu J. Complementary and alternative medicine for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011;11:87.  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-87

  9. Porter NS, Jason LA, Boulton A, Bothne N, Coleman B. Alternative medical interventions used in the treatment and management of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(3):235-49.  doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0376

  10. Xu W, Zhou RH, Li L, Jiang MW. [Observation on therapeutic effect of chronic fatigue syndrome treated with coiling dragon needling and moving cupping on back]. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2012;32(3):205-8.

  11. Lu C, Yang XJ, Hu J. [Randomized controlled clinical trials of acupuncture and moxibustion treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome patients]. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 2014;39(4):313-7.

Additional Reading
  • Chen XH, et al. Randomized controlled study on acupuncture treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu (Chinese acupuncture & moxibustion.) 2010 Jul;30(7):533-6. Article in Chinese; abstract accessed.

  • Kim JE, Hong KE, Kim HJ, et al. An open-label study of effects of acupuncture on chronic fatigue syndrome and idiopathic chronic fatigue: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2013 May 21;14:147. doi:10.1186/1745-6215-14-147

  • Ng SM, Yiu YM. Acupuncture for chronic fatigue syndrome: a randomized, sham -controlled trial with single-blinded design. Alternative theories in health and medicine. 2013 Jul-Aug;19(4):21-6.

  • Zhang W, Liu ZS, Xu HR, Liu YS. Observation on therapeutic effect of acupuncture Back-shu acupoints for chronic fatigue syndrome patients. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu (acupuncture research). 2011 Dec;36(6):437-41, 448. Article in Chinese; abstract accessed.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.