More than 40 million U.S. adults have symptoms of anxiety, which refers to excessive worrying that’s hard to control and often impacts daily life. It’s often treated with psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both.
Acupuncture, an ancient practice that involves inserting needles into pressure points on your body, is becoming a popular alternative treatment for anxiety. There’s some scientific evidence that acupuncture helps with certain symptoms of anxiety. However, researchers are still trying to determine the effect of acupuncture on specific types of anxiety, such as panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Keep reading to learn more about what we do — and don’t yet— know about using acupuncture to treat anxiety.
There have been several studies done about the effects of acupuncture on anxiety. These studies have focused mostly on generalized anxiety disorder and suggest that acupuncture is helpful in treating general anxiety.
One promising study from 2015, for example, found that acupuncture improved symptoms in people with anxiety that didn’t respond to other treatments, including psychotherapy and medication. Participants received ten 30-minute sessions of acupuncture over the course of 12 weeks. They experienced a significant reduction in their anxiety, even 10 weeks after treatment.
However, two reviews of existing research, one from 2007 and another from 2013, note that many studies on the subject aren’t very reliable. Some had very few participants — including the one mentioned above — while others were poorly designed. On the other hand, these reviews also point out that acupuncture doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on anxiety.
In a more recent 2016 study on rats, acupuncture was found to be effective for reducing anxiety. The researchers suggested that it impacts how the body triggers the fight-or-flight response.
While we need to better understand how acupuncture affects anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias, research is showing promise for acupuncture as a viable and safe option. If you have anxiety that hasn’t responded to other treatment methods, or you’re simply interested in trying something new, acupuncture shouldn’t worsen your symptoms.