Acupuncture is helpful to treat the symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome. This guide will explain how acupuncture works for Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome.
Interstitial cystitis (IC), also called painful bladder syndrome, is a chronic condition characterized by pelvic pain, urinary frequency, and urgency. Interstitial cystitis impacts almost all aspects of your life, including professional, educational, and personal, and can be an overwhelming experience.
Both men and women can get IC, although it occurs mostly in women. People with interstitial cystitis can have symptoms similar to a urinary tract infection, but without an infection (1). Often, there is painful, frequent, urgent, inhibited, or incomplete urination. Sometimes there may be blood in the urine. There may be a dull feeling of fullness in the lower abdomen and bladder. The pain in the bladder can be intense or dull, and sometimes it is located in the pelvis, or on the pelvic floor. Some people experience sexual dysfunction.
These symptoms can resemble many different conditions. It is important to see a urologist to get a complete exam to rule out other illnesses.
Acupuncture for Interstitial Cystitis
Over two thousand years ago, acupuncture physicians described a syndrome which is characterized by painful and frequent urination called Lin Syndrome (2). Accompanying symptoms can be tenderness in the lower abdomen, a feeling of incomplete urination, sexual dysfunction, changes in the color of urination, urinating at night, and also depression and anxiety. Although they were not speaking specifically about interstitial cystitis, these same principles can be used to create an effective acupuncture treatment.
During the Acupuncture and Chinese medicine diagnosis process, urinary symptoms along with your overall health are considered. This paints a picture of the underlying imbalance that is causing the disease. Common imbalances for interstitial cystitis are qi (energy, pronounced “chee”) weakness, lack of circulation of qi, and heat. It is not uncommon for women to suffer from more than one of these imbalances.
People with qi weakness, or lack of energy are often tired and have digestive problems. This can cause frequent urination, urination at night, and a feeling of fullness in the abdomen. Qi stagnation is a lack of circulation of the energy and can cause pain, bloating, and muscle spasms. Qi stagnation may cause spasm in the muscles of the pelvic floor.
Heat is also a frequent cause of interstitial cystitis symptoms. Heat in the body can cause dryness, burning urination, abnormal sweating, stiff joints, and headaches. Often, heat is a reflection of inflammation. Heat may develop after having a urinary tract infection. Infection may also lead to qi vacuity.
Once the proper imbalance is identified, the acupuncture point prescription is tailored to correct that imbalance.
How does acupuncture treat interstitial cystitis?
Traditional Chinese Medicine works by identifying specific imbalances in the body and using acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and acupressure to correct them. Physiologically, acupuncture helps to reduce the symptoms of interstitial cystitis by regulating pain sensation, releasing pain relieving chemicals in the nervous system, and reducing inflammation (3). Correcting the imbalance does not just treat the symptoms or mask the condition, but rather corrects the root of the problem by encouraging self-healing of the body.
The acupuncture point prescription will vary based upon the underlying imbalance. Generally, the acupuncture points for interstitial cystitis are located on the arms and legs, as well as the lower abdomen and lower back.
Auricular, or ear, acupuncture is very helpful for pain and spasm of the bladder. Points such as bladder, ureter, pelvis, and the spirit gate are helpful. Often, I will use small magnets on these points to stimulate them in between acupuncture treatments.
Acupressure massage helps to support the acupuncture in relaxing the muscles as well as relieve stress. Sometimes electro-acupuncture can relieve the constant feeling of fullness and urgency in the bladder.
The results of acupuncture are cumulative over a series of treatments. Once the imbalance is corrected, the body can work to heal itself and can result in long lasting benefit. Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation can be a vital support for relieving stress and preventing the tension from returning.
Interstitial Cystitis Resources
- National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
- Interstitial Cystitis Association
- Interstitial Cystitis Network
1. Genitourinary Pain and Inflammation: Diagnosis and Management . Ed. J.M. Potts. Humana Press. NJ
2. Wiseman N, Feng Y. A Practical Dictionary of Chinese Medicine
3. Napadow V, Ahn A, Longhurst J, et.al. The Status and Future of Acupuncture Mechanism Research. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 September; 14(7): 861–869.
by Joseph Alban