Acupuncture for Constipation: What You Need to Know

Constipation is what is referred to as having less than three bowel movements in a week and the stools created during these bowel movements are usually dry, hard, small, and difficult to pass through. In the case of acupuncture, it can produce long lasting results for chronic constipation and help to ease discomfort. 

Gastrointestinal issues could be due to causes that are either in or out of your control. Diet changes, not enough water, lack of physical activity, or too much dairy are examples of things that are in one’s control to help with constipation. 

Other scenarios that may cause constipation are pregnancy, under-active thyroid, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), stress, colon cancer, and certain medications. Although you cannot control these things, there are ways to prevent and reduce constipation, which is where acupuncture and other aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) step in.

Acupuncture for Constipation

            If you have tried conventional medicine for digestive issues like constipation, acupuncture may be your answer, and it can help in a few different ways. In the world of acupuncture, there are meridian lines for each major organ system in the body.

The meridian lines typically used for constipation are:

  • Stomach

  • Liver

  • Small Intestine

  • Large Intestine

On the large intestine meridian line, there are acupuncture points which can be used to relieve constipation which nourish the organs related to the constipation, decrease inflammation, and improve overall digestive function. Other meridian lines typically used in treating constipation are the stomach and liver lines for things like stress, which has been shown to cause constipation issues as well.

Since there are several factors that can contribute to constipation issues, it is important to first visit a doctor so that the root cause can be identified. Once a root cause is known, make sure to then express this to your acupuncturist so that they may give you an individualized treatment plan to address these causes. 

Some acupuncturists may also make use of electroacupuncture treatment which uses acupuncture needles that are attached to a device that sends low-voltage electrical currents into the body at those points.  Electroacupuncture was proven to be an effective treatment option, with a study done in 2016 showing significant results in support of helping chronic constipation.

The study on electroacupuncture for constipation:

  • Control group received shallow needles with electrical wires attached the same way as the treatment group, without current passing through them.

  • The treatment group used electroacupuncture and trained acupuncturists inserted the needles at 6 acupuncture points in the stomach, and then passed a current through attached wires for 30 minutes.

  • Acupuncture treatment was repeated for 28 sessions over 8 weeks, and out of the 1,075 patients looked at with serious functional constipation, 31.3% of the people in the treatment group showed improvement compared with the 12.1% in the control group.

Although researchers state that more research needs to be done, these are very promising results in favor of acupuncture for constipation.

One thing is for sure, acupuncture stimulates the muscles along the gastrointestinal tract, which would make sense as to why the treatment would in fact work for constipation and other gastrointestinal issues.

Traditional Chinese Medicine for Constipation

         In order to understand why acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) work for conditions like constipation, it is important to know how the condition is classified in eastern medicine, and how acupuncturists and herbalists determine the appropriate treatment plan and formula for you.

Digestion starts in the mouth, and when you go in for your acupuncture/TCM consultation, don’t be alarmed if they ask you to stick out your tongue. This is the only internal organ the doctor can ask to see, and the color and coating on the tongue give clues as to what may be happening in the body. TCM also does not recognize constipation as one condition.

Traditional Chinese Medicine separates constipation into six categories according to their symptoms:

  • Excessive Heat: symptoms being dry stool, stomach ache, irritation, feeling hot and thirsty, and red tongue with yellow coating.

  • Stagnation of Energy: symptoms being coated tongue, stomach ache, belching, poor appetite, and difficulty moving bowels even though stool is not dry.

  • Insufficient Energy: symptoms being difficulty moving bowels even though stool is not dry, pale tongue with white coating, fatigued, and sweating easily.

  • Insufficient Blood: symptoms being pale face, insomnia, poor memory, white coating on the tongue, and dry stool.

  • Insufficient Yin: symptoms being red tongue, frequent dizziness, night sweats, dry stool (small pebbles), weakness

  • Insufficient Yang: symptoms being pale, stomach ache, pain in the lower back & knees which is relieved by application of heat, and difficulty moving bowels even though stool isn’t dry.

Your practitioner will base their treatment plan off of where you land in these categories. It is important to give your acupuncturist/herbalist all the information on your symptoms.  There are many possible causes for your constipation and even more potential acupuncture points to use in conjunction with herbal formulas to help.

Diet Changes & Herbs for Constipation

Fiber, along with water, are important to incorporate in the diet of someone with constipation issues.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics the adult woman should aim to get 25 grams of daily fiber, and the adult man should shoot for 38 grams. Adequate fiber intake, along with keeping well hydrated and staying active are simple solutions to reduce the likelihood of getting constipated.

            At the center of constipation according to TCM is an imbalance in the body. Above we talked about the specifics of how constipation in classified.

In general, the imbalance causes the following symptoms in TCM:

  • An excess of warmth

  • An excess of cold

  • Disturbance in qi (force that keeps energy flowing smoothly in the body)

There are also potential diet changes along with herbal formulas that may be recommended to aid in balancing out the digestive system. Herbal formulas, used in eastern medicine, have been utilized for thousands of years in conjunction with acupuncture to help/cure many ailments that may come through the door.

In regards to constipation, here are some herbs/foods that may be prescribed to you:

  • Rhubarb – a natural laxative without creating diarrhea

  • Ginger – calms irritation in the digestive system and improves digestion. It helps the body process foods therefore producing bowel movements.

  • Licorice Root – anti-inflammatory and aids in digestion. It soothes the digestive system which encourages bowel movement, helps stomach functions, and helps harmonize all other herbs that go into a possible formula.

  • Hawthorn Fruit – aids in digestion, use with green tangerine peel and bitter orange to ease bowel movements.

  • Rehmannia Root – lubricates and smooths bowel movements.

  • Angelica Root – usually mixed with other herbs to ease the pain symptoms associated with constipation.

  • Mung Beans – these keep things moving and helps to regulate digestion.

  • Black Sesame Seeds – moistens and moves bowels to relieve constipation.

Most times, herbal formulas that are prescribed to you will not just be one herb but multiple (usually 5 or more) herbs that work together to create the right treatment for you. Your acupuncturist/herbalist will be able to pin point where your treatment should go once a root cause is determined at the consultation.

Does Acupuncture for Constipation Work?

            In short, if you go for acupuncture and follow the prescribed treatment plan, yes.  Although it takes 40 to 45 hours for your food to make the trip through your gastrointestinal system and exit your body, going without a bowel movement in a week’s time cannot be ignored. Constipation is a very common problem in the U.S. which is at most times an acute issue that is fairly easily rectified. Other times, however, having persistent constipation may cause facial discoloration, acne, hemorrhoids, and potentially damage the liver and intestines. Persistent constipation in elderly cardiac patients can cause heart attack and damage to the heart tissue. Granted, these are extreme cases, but still a possibility if not treated properly whether you choose a holistic route or western medicine methods. However, the effects of acupuncture on constipation speak for themselves.

A study done in 2013 showed, in fact, that acupuncture was as effective as prescribed medications in the change of bowel movements.  Acupuncture and TCM treatments have stood the test of time, and are worth exploring for the treatment of constipation. 

*If you are dealing with constipation, please consult with your doctor before discontinuing any current medications or before beginning consumption of any new herbs/herbal formulas.

Acupuncture for Constipation Near Me

Find acupuncture near you today with Best Acupuncture Near Me, to learn if acupuncture treatments for constipation are right for you.  When performed by a licensed acupuncturist, acupuncture for constipation is a safe and effective treatment for helping gastrointestinal related issues. Our acupuncturists are happy to assist you with your questions and concerns regarding constipation and acupuncture treatments. Search your local area on Best Acupuncture Near Me to find a acupuncture practitioner near you.*