Acupuncture’s Approach to Interstitial Cystitis

According to Chinese medicine, not all people who develop IC get the condition from the same root causes.  Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine work by correcting imbalances in the body and reset the body to bring it back to health. I like to think of this as hitting the reset button. For the treatment of Interstitial Cystitis, acupuncture can reduce the pain, frequency and discomfort of urination, along with the stress that can come with it.

Alban_052113_081According to acupuncture, the body is connected by channels.  And the body’s energy, called qi (pronounced chee) flows through these meridians to keep us healthy. When there are imbalances in the qi, illness occurs. Common imbalances for Interstitial Cystitis include qi weakness, qi stagnation (lack of circulation of qi), and heat. It is not uncommon for people to suffer from more than one of these imbalances and it is important to locate which imbalance is particular to your situation so as to better guide the course of treatment. This is why it is important during the initial visit, to take an in-depth history of your symptoms to get a clear picture of what you are experiencing.

Imbalances will correlate with specific symptoms. For example, people with qi weakness, or lack of energy, are often tired and have digestive problems. Those with qi weakness may experience 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. Heat in the body can cause dryness, burning urination, abnormal sweating, stiff joints, and headaches.

Other relevant symptoms when designing a specific and effective course of treatment for IC are muscle tightness in the pelvis, back, abdomen, and legs. Trigger points in the gluteus maximus and medius, adductor magnus, and illopsoas, are taken into account because they can produce pain in the pelvic floor. Another common symptom is sacro-iliac joint dysfunction, which can also be an important factor in treatment.

Once the proper imbalance is identified, the acupuncture point prescription is tailored specifically to correct that imbalance. Acupuncture points are then placed along the channels in order to regulate the flow of energy. Channels are located on the surface of the body but also internally. This is why thin Acupuncture needles, which lightly penetrate the skin, can work to treat pain and illness of the bladder associated with Interstitial Cystitis.

How does acupuncture treat interstitial cystitis?

acupuncture modelTraditional 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 decreasing inflammation, releasing pain relieving chemicals in the nervous system, and decreasing muscle spasm.   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 is tailored to the specific imbalance causing your symptoms.  For example, if qi deficiency is the main issue, then acupuncture points such as Spleen 9, Kidney 7, on the legs, Ren 3, 4, and Kidney 12 on the abdomen can be used.  If there is qi stagnation, acupuncture points such as Liver 3, Liver 5,and Liver 8, and Large intestine 4 can be used.  If there is heat, acupuncture points such as Kidney 2 and Liver 2, Large intestine 4, Large intestine 11, and San Jiao 3 are often used.

Auricular, or ear, acupuncture is very helpful for pain 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.

Massage and trigger point stimulation helps to support the acupuncture in relaxing the muscles of the hips and pelvis. Sometimes electroacupuncture on the lower abdomen, lower back, or pelvis can help relax the bladder and pelvic muscles.  This can relieve the constant feeling of fullness and urgency in the bladder.

The results of a 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.

Click here to read success stories of our patients with IC. 

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.
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