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Acupuncture for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Acupuncture for IBS

Acupuncture for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a new modality of treatment. There have been no clear-cut guidelines for treating visceral pains in patients with IBS.

Various treatments are being tried including:

  • Antispasmodics
  • Stool softeners
  • Pain medications
  • Antacids
  • Antidepressants
  • Newer agents such as Linzess, Viberzi, etc

However, each person’s response to the treatment is variable. In addition, one treatment may be effective for some time but may lose effectiveness over time, and newer treatments are then tried.

Acupuncture is being increasingly used for painful conditions like:

  • muscle spasms,
  • skeletal pains,
  • migraine,
  • neuropathic pains,
  • fibromyalgia, and
  • visceral pains such as IBS.

If you have IBS, combining acupuncture with standard medical treatment may help a lot.

Acupuncture is a natural method of pain relief and has been used for decades. In addition, unlike standard medical treatment, it does not have significant side effects.

As a traditional Chinese practice, acupuncture is good for relieving pain, reducing the frequency of IBS flares, and regulating your bowels.

So, continue reading to learn everything about acupuncture for IBS relief.


Understanding IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome):

IBS isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. It can manifest in different ways, with three main types:

  • IBS with Diarrhea (IBS-D):

IBS-D is characterized by frequent loose stools, abdominal pain, bloating, and intolerance to certain diets.

  • IBS with Constipation (IBS-C):

People with IBS-C experience infrequent bowel movements with hard stools and difficulty passing them.

They usually complain of incomplete evacuation and passing hard pellet-like stools.

  • IBS with Mixed Bowel Habits (IBS-M):

This type involves a combination of both diarrhea and constipation symptoms.

Most patients have one dominant symptom alternating with the less dominant one. For example, patients may complain of predominant constipation with alternating symptoms of diarrhea.

How Acupuncture May Help IBS?

Acupuncture for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

For people who wonder ‘Does acupuncture help IBS?’ here is a description of how this natural therapy can do you good.

  • Reduced Abdominal Pain:

This can help relieve pain in the abdominal area and also lessen its frequency [ref]. The release and stimulation of endorphins are given credit for acupuncture’s efficiency in handling IBS pain.

  • Improved Digestion:

It can modify the nervous system to help regulate the GIT movements. This will lead to smoother digestion while reducing symptoms like constipation or diarrhea.

  • Decreased Bloating:

Furthermore, bloating or feeling gassy in IBS is rather common. Acupuncture is known to relax the entire body, even the abdominal region by reducing stress hormones that contribute to bloating.


The science behind Acupuncture for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):

While research is still determining the exact mechanism that goes behind acupuncture for IBS there are two modes of action suggested.

  1. The needle pricks might stimulate the nervous system to communicate with the gut. This will obviously lead to better digestive regulation.
  2. Since stress is a trigger for IBS, acupuncture can diminish the release of such hormones as cortisol and reduce the incidence of flare-ups.

Do Studies Support the Use of Acupuncture for IBS?

A good medical practice is only credible if research has shown its benefits. Here are a few pieces of evidence in favor of acupuncture for IBS.

Several studies are continuously exploring acupuncture for pain relief. A review from 2012 analyzed multiple studies on this topic and found that acupuncture is not more effective than sham acupuncture.

However, when compared to medications for pain relief in IBS or to no treatment at all, acupuncture showed promising results.

Even though more research will be useful, the current body of evidence suggests acupuncture for IBS as a valuable method to relieve pain.

Another meta-analysis from 2019 reviewed multiple studies on acupuncture for IBS, with a specific focus on women’s health. 

The analysis found that acupuncture was more effective than a sham acupuncture control group in reducing overall IBS symptoms and improving the quality of life in women with IBS.

The control group also receives needles, but these needles are inserted at non-acupuncture points or in a way that they don’t penetrate the skin deeply.

A study from 2020 compared usual care (dietary changes or medications) with acupuncture for chronic constipation (common in IBS-C).

Acupuncture was more effective than its rivals in improving overall bowel functioning and reducing the symptoms.

A more recent meta-analysis from 2022 combined data from several clinical trials and found acupuncture to be more effective than some medications for reducing abdominal pain and overall IBS symptoms.

Even though the two drugs did show more effective pain relief, acupuncture still won the match with fewer side effects compared to most antispasmodics used for IBS.


Combining Acupuncture with Other Strategies for IBS Management

While acupuncture offers a promising tool for managing IBS symptoms, it can be even more effective when combined with other complementary approaches.

Dietary Modifications:

  • Identify Culprit Foods:

Using a food journal can be awesome for you. Keeping track of what and when you eat, in detail, and then how you feel afterward can help identify triggers that might worsen IBS.

Common culprits include spicy foods, dairy products, and gluten. Eliminating these triggers from your diet, even temporarily, can lead to significant improvement.

  • Exploring the Low-FODMAP Diet:

This diet is about limiting the use of fermentable carbs (FODMAPs), which can cause digestive discomfort in some people with IBS.

While it requires careful planning and guidance from a registered dietitian, the low-FODMAP diet can provide significant relief to those who respond well.

  • Regular Eating Habits:

Discipline is extremely important when dealing with IBS. You can regulate your digestion by eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. This will also help reduce bloating.


Reduce stress:

  • Calming exercises:

Try calming practices like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises which can help you manage stress. Such techniques can help relax the nervous system and improve digestive functions.

  • Simple Relaxation Techniques:

Do not underestimate the benefits of incorporating simple relaxation techniques into your daily routine.

Reading, listening to calming music, spending time in nature, or engaging in hobbies that you enjoy can all help you relax and reduce stress, resulting in better IBS management.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

This can help you identify and change negative thoughts and triggers that might be causing flare-ups.

By learning to manage stress you can develop a positive outlook and improve the quality of your life while keeping IBS at bay.


What do you think?

Written by Dr. Ahmed

I am Dr. Ahmed (MBBS; FCPS Medicine), an Internist and a practicing physician. I am in the medical field for over fifteen years working in one of the busiest hospitals and writing medical posts for over 5 years.

I love my family, my profession, my blog, nature, hiking, and simple life. Read more about me, my family, and my qualifications

Here is a link to My Facebook Page. You can also contact me by email at or at My Twitter Account
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