Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease of the brain and spinal cord. It can also cause numbness, cognitive impairment, muscle spasms, depression, and visual and speech problems. Oftentimes, patients seek pain management strategies in addition to traditional drug therapies.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some research suggests pain sufferers might benefit from alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, or Tai Chi. Some patients can even learn how to strengthen an area of the brain that helps them mentally deal with chronic pain.


Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese medicine. It's based on the flow of energy, qi (chee), which circulates through 14 pathways in the body called meridians. During acupuncture, a trained acupuncturist inserts thin, disposable needles into specific points along these meridians.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that roughly one-quarter of people with MS have tried acupuncture for pain, spasticity, numbness and tingling, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and bowel or bladder symptoms, and 10 to 15 percent of them plan to continue receiving acupuncture.

Unfortunately, there are few controlled scientific trials to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture; so much of the evidence is anecdotal. General studies of acupuncture on pain, anxiety, and depression have not typically included patients with MS, so researchers are not sure if acupuncture benefits hold true specifically for MS patients.

A recent study with a small group found that acupuncture significantly improved the quality of life for MS patients, particularly in the area of pain, depression, and mobility of the eyes. In this study, a treatment group received electroacupuncture (electrical stimulation of acupuncture needles) weekly for six weeks. The treatment group showed marked improvement over the control group. On her blog, Kristen Sparrow, MD, a Board Certified physician who researches the neurological foundations of acupuncture, says she believes this study was well executed and provided encouraging results.

Furthermore, an NIH panel has concluded that acupuncture is safe and well tolerated for most people, and may provide relief for some MS symptoms, although there is no evidence that it can reduce the frequency of MS worsening or slow the progression of the disability.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society suggests interested patients use acupuncture in conjunction with standard therapy. Tell your physician about any alternative treatments you're considering, and be sure to seek treatment from a licensed acupuncturist.



Damasceno, Alfredo, Glehn, Felipe, Brandão, Carlos O., and Quispe-Cabanillas, Juan G. “Impact of electroacupuncture on quality of life for patients with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis under treatment with immunomodulators: A randomized study.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 12:209 (2012). Web.

Sparrow, Kristen, MD. “ Study on Acupuncture and Multiple Sclerosis: Improves QOL.” Web. 10 November 2012.

National Institutes of Health. “Halt the Hurt!” News in NIH Health. March 2012. Web.

National MS Society. “Acupuncture.” Web.