May 2007 >
Treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Acupuncture: Let the Energy
Treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Acupuncture:
Let the Energy Flow
By Mark Giuliucci
It's all about the chi.
For thousands of years, practitioners of Chinese medicine have believed
that blockages in the body's "life energy" — chi — are responsible for
illness and disease. Acupuncture and other traditional Chinese
treatments seek to restore the natural flow of chi and return the body
Yet you don't have to believe in ancient theory to believe in the power
of acupuncture. Many Western researchers contend that acupuncture's
benefits can be explained in their terms. Acupuncture needles may
stimulate nerve endings under the skin, sending impulses to the brain
that result in the release of pain-easing endorphins and other hormones.
Some researchers using brain scans have found that acupuncture increases
blood flow to the thalamus, which is responsible for relaying pain
messages to the rest of the body.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health
Organization (WHO) formally recognize acupuncture as a method of pain
relief. An NIH advisory panel has concluded that acupuncture is a useful
treatment for fibromyalgia, headache, asthma and other conditions.
Hundreds of acupuncture studies are underway to determine just how
effective acupuncture may be for conditions ranging from arthritis to
"I have been treating chronic fatigue syndrome with Chinese medicine,
including acupuncture, since 1985," says Maoshing Ni, PhD, DOM, a
doctor of oriental medicine in Santa Monica , Calif. "I have seen it
work. Certainly, people have different beliefs about how it works, but
the bottom line to me is that it is effective."
The main tool in acupuncture is a hair-thin, flexible needle. Skilled
practitioners insert a series of needles in specific points just under
the skin. In Chinese medicine, these points are located along meridians,
the channels through which chi flows. These points correspond to body
systems or organs — the heart, the kidneys or the spleen, for instance —
that may be suffering from blockages of chi.
Western acupuncturists use many of the same points; although they may
not agree with the meridian theory, practice has shown that the points
can be effective for relieving pain and other symptoms. The treatment
is, by nature, somewhat invasive. Insertion of the needles can be a
little uncomfortable for some people, although they rarely cause serious
pain. Some patients may also feel mild tingling or burning sensations
once the needles are in place.
The placement and duration of the needle insertions varies by symptom.
Generally, a dozen or so needles are used during each treatment, and
they may remain in place for anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes.
Practitioners may move needles or twist them slightly during treatment
to achieve desired effects.
Sessions are usually held weekly. A typical series of treatments may
last for several months. In some cases, the treatment is ongoing, as in
Putting it Together
The first time you visit an acupuncturist, expect him or her to take a
thorough medical history. You'll be asked about your symptoms, current
medications and other health conditions that may conflict with
treatments. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is practiced in
conjunction with a number of other treatments, including herbal
remedies, meditation and dietary changes. Dr. Ni says that he devises an
individualized program for each patient.
"A typical diagnosis for chronic fatigue syndrome would involve
kidney-adrenal exhaustion, spleen-stomach digestion deficiency, liver
stagnation and blockage, and then a disturbed spirit," Dr. Ni says.
"Mainly I think we're looking at the overtaxation of one's vital energy
resources. Treatment with Chinese medicine would involve trying to
resolve those issues."
A typical CFIDS patient would begin a new dietary regimen — including
organic foods supplemented with digestive enzymes. Herbal remedies
will also be a part of the protocol, as well as meditation and treatment
for sleep disorders. Gentle exercise will also be introduced according
to the patient's ability to handle it. But of all the treatments, Dr. Ni
says, acupuncture seems to deliver the most immediate benefit. "The
other things take more time. But patients can often feel a more
immediate change with acupuncture. After they get off the table, they
get more of an immediate energy boost."
If you're interested in checking out acupuncture, you can start with a
little self-administered routine. It doesn't involve needles — just a
"Not everyone has access to acupuncture, but certainly they have a
finger they can use," Dr. Ni says. "It will stimulate in much the same
way as an acupuncture needle."
Stomach point #36 is located just below the knee. Dr. Ni says he uses it
to help increase immune function in his patients. This point is found
about three inches below the outside of the knee. Feel for the head of
your shin bone, and then apply pressure just behind it. Press steadily
for about one minute, just hard enough to feel a little tenderness.
Kidney point #3 is located in the ankle. "This fortifies the
kidney-adrenal system, which is so important in people with CFS," Dr. Ni
says. "The kidneys and adrenal systems have virtually become exhausted."
The point is in the inside back of the ankle, between the Achilles
tendon and the ankle bone. Again, apply firm pressure for about one
minute. The third area, known as large intestine #4, is a common point
used to relieve pain. It's located in the web of the hand, between the
thumb and index finger. To find it, make the "OK" sign and feel for the
bump of muscle on the back of the hand. Press on that point firmly for
about one minute. Dr. Ni says this point helps fight bacterial, fungal
and microbial problems as well as pain.