Erectile Dysfunction and Acupuncture
Acupuncture is part of a larger system called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In TCM, illnesses are described as complex patterns of energetic imbalances and blockages in the body. Treatment is based not only on a medical diagnosis, but on identifying the unique energetic dynamics at play in each individual patient and seeking to correct imbalances and blockages with the use of fine needles. Because of this individual approach, not all men diagnosed with erectile dysfunction would receive the same acupuncture treatment.
Although there is not much scientific research supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture for erectile dysfunction, acupuncture may be worth trying because it is a low-risk treatment that can have many pleasant and helpful effects on the body, including deep relaxation. This may be particularly beneficial for men whose erectile dysfunction is caused or exacerbated by stress.
Effect of Acupuncture on Erectile Dysfunction
The exact effects of acupuncture are not clear in modern scientific terms. Acupuncture is believed to effect muscles, nerves, and body chemicals such as hormones and neurotransmitters. In general traditional terms, acupuncture seeks to restore the normal circulation of energy within specific channels, called meridians, and improve overall health by promoting the balance of energy in the whole body. Acupuncture may be helpful in erectile dysfunction by targeting the specific problems causing the dysfunction and also supporting the patient's overall health.
Research Evidence on Acupuncture
In a small study, acupuncture proved superior to fake ("sham") acupuncture for treatment of erectile dysfunction.1
Findings from acupuncture studies are often considered limited because acupuncture cannot be performed according to the double-blind method preferred in rigorous scientific research. Practitioners administering treatment know whether they are providing genuine or fake (sham) acupuncture, and they may unconsciously communicate this to the subjects in the study. Proponents of acupuncture argue that this does not mean that acupuncture is not effective, but that the human relationship and other intangible elements are important aspects of the treatment.
How to Use Acupuncture
For more information, see the section, "What to Expect During an Acupuncture Treatment," in the acupuncture article.
Types of Professionals That Would Be Involved with This Treatment
Acupuncture may be practiced by a variety of professionals, and licensure laws in the United States vary by state. Look for a licensed acupuncturist ("L.Ac."). Other health professionals such as naturopaths, chiropractors and physicians might also use acupuncture as part of their practice.
For more information, see "How to Choose a Qualified Acupuncturist" in the acupuncture article.
Side Effects and Warnings
Serious adverse effects associated with the use of acupuncture are rare. , The most commonly reported problems include short-term pain from needle insertion, tiredness, and minor bleeding. There is one report of infection caused by acupuncture given to a person with diabetes. ^ Some acupuncture points lie over the lungs and insertion to excessive depth could conceivably cause a pneumothorax (punctured lung). Because acupuncturists are trained to avoid this complication, it is a rare occurrence.
A recent report from China contained an example of another complication caused by excessively deep needling. ^4] A 44-year-old man was needled on the back of the neck at a commonly used acupuncture point just below the bony protuberance at the base of the skull. However, the acupuncturist inserted the needle too deeply and punctured a blood vessel in the skull. The client developed a severe headache with nausea and vomiting; a [CAT scan showed bleeding in the brain, and a spinal tap found a small amount of blood in the cerebrospinal fluid. The severe headache, along with neck stiffness, continued for 28 days. The man was treated with standard pain medication, and the condition resolved itself without any permanent effects.
Infection due to the use of unclean needles has been reported in the past, but the modern practice of using disposable sterile needles appears to have eliminated this risk.
- Engelhardt PF, Daha LK, Zils T, et al. Acupuncture in the treatment of psychogenic erectile dysfunction: first results of a prospective randomized placebo-controlled study. Int J Impot Res. 2003;15:343-346.