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Depression and Acupuncture

Acupuncture, is the most well-known branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and a 4,000 year old medical system. Health, as defined in TCM, is generally described as having balanced energy in the body. Acupuncture is used to restore the body's energy balance and to improve or maintain the health of the patient. There are different types of acupuncture including traditional/classical, auricular, trigger point and single point acupuncture. TCM and classical acupuncture are based in theoretical and philosophical (such as Yin and Yang and the Five Elements) concepts and use these to explain disease and physiological function. Trigger and single point acupuncture are often considered "medical acupuncture" and the points of needle entry are determined more on neurophysiology and anatomy1. Auricular acupuncture maintains that ailments of the entire body can be addressed on points on the outer ear.

Find other natural remedies for depression.

Effect of Acupuncture on Depression

Acupuncture (especially when used in conjunction with Chinese herbs) is said to help restore balance to the energy fields that run through the body. Acupuncture uses sterile, disposable, single-use, and hair thin needles which are inserted into points on the body that have scientifically and empirically validated therapeutic effects on the brain, nervous system, blood circulation, internal organs, and hormones. The brain and spinal nerves, when stimulated with acupuncture needles by a qualified Acupuncture Physician, can aid in treating the symptoms associated with many forms of depression.

Acupuncture is most often used in conjunction with Chinese herbs to treat many chronic diseases and the same is true of its effectiveness in the treatment of depression. Read more about Depression and Chinese Herbs.

Read more details about Acupuncture.

Research Evidence on Acupuncture

As with many alternative treatment modalities, acupuncture research tends to find that more research is needed to prove the efficacy of the treatment. One study that exposed depressed women to an 8-week acupuncture treatment regime found that 64% of participants experienced full remission from their symptoms2. Another pilot study found that all participants felt improvements in their depression symptoms after being exposed to acupuncture that addressed three specific points (LI4, LI11 and HT7)3. Many studies find that acupuncture is most effective when used in combination with other (herbal, pharmaceutical, cognitive-behavioral etc.) therapies2,4.

Types of Professionals That Would Be Involved with This Treatment

A Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) can use needles to move stagnant Qi around the body to ensure its proper functioning.

Safety Issues

Serious adverse effects associated with the use of acupuncture are rare. 1,2 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. 3 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.


  1. Ernst E, White AR. Prospective studies of the safety of acupuncture: a systematic review. Am J Med. 110(6):481-5.
  2. MacPherson H, Thomas K, Walters S, Fitter M. The York acupuncture safety study: prospective survey of 34 000 treatments by traditional acupuncturists. BMJ. 323(7311):486-7.
  3. Shah N, Hing C, Tucker K, Crawford R. Infected compartment syndrome after acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 20(2-3):105-6.
  4. Choo DCA, Yue G. Acute intracranial hemorrhage in the brain caused by acupuncture. Headache. 2000;40:397-398.

1 Smith, C.A., Hay, P.P.J., MacPherson, H. (2010). Acupuncture for Depression Cochrane Database of Systematic Revies (1). doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004046.pub3.

2 Allen, J.B., Schnyer, R.N., & Hitt, S.K. (1998). The Efficacy of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Major Depression in Women. Psychological Science 9(5) 397-401. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00074

3 Errington-Evans, N. (2009). Acupuncture in Chronic Non-responding anxiety/depression Patients: A case series (27) 133-134.

4 Allen, J.B., Schnyer, R.N., Chambers, A.S., Hitt, S.K., Moreno, F.A. & Manber, R. (2006). Acupuncture for Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 67(11).

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1 Comment

Posted 13 years ago

I'd like to point out that in addition to licensed acupuncturists, more and more physicians are getting trained to perform acupuncture. The <a href=http://>American Academy of Medical Acupuncture</a> has more information.

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