Some believe that managing anxiety and stress could be as easy as visiting your local acupuncturist. What does the research say?

Most people experience some level of anxiety or stress in daily life. It could be short term, long term, or maybe you live with an anxiety disorder and experience frequent symptoms.

When feelings of anxiety become overwhelming, you might be curious about alternative therapies as a way to manage symptoms.

Acupuncture is an alternative, or complementary, treatment that can be traced back to ancient Chinese medical practices. Trained professionals perform acupuncture by inserting fine, sterile needles into the skin to stimulate “acupoints” throughout the body.

While it’s unclear exactly how acupuncture works, a growing body of research supports the use of this therapy for everything from smoking cessation to emergency room pain management.

The way acupuncture helps anxiety and anxiety disorders may be similar to how it helps with pain control.

Because acupuncture targets nerves and tissue connection sites, experts believe it may jump-start your body into producing pain-relieving neurotransmitters and hormones.

Many medications used to treat anxiety also work by stimulating or regulating the production of these important chemicals in the brain.

A neuroscience research review from 2013 found significant evidence supporting the theory that acupuncture directly influenced these types of chemical changes.

When it comes to acupuncture and anxiety, research is ongoing. Many individual studies reveal promising results, but reviews of those studies are sometimes mixed.

Two reviews from 2021 found there were potential benefits for using acupuncture to treat anxiety.

The first review evaluated 20 randomized controlled trials in both English and Chinese. The trials focused on generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and suggested that acupuncture was effective in helping people manage symptoms.

Study authors noted, however, more high-quality studies should be done to better understand the role of acupuncture in anxiety treatment.

The second review looked specifically at preoperative anxiety.

Twelve studies were evaluated. Researchers reported a potential benefit in anxiety reduction through acupuncture. Like the first review, however, researchers cautioned some studies included in the analysis were low quality and had small sample sizes.

The same pattern was seen in a 2019 analysis of available acupuncture reviews.

In this evaluation, 10 reviews were assessed. Most reviews suggested that acupuncture was more effective than controls in treating anxiety, but researchers noted that the quality of the studies evaluated were often poor.

So, does acupuncture work for anxiety or not?

Overall, existing research tends to support the use of acupuncture for anxiety treatment.

While some studies were found lacking when it came to randomization or sample size, their results were still similar to higher-quality studies included in the reviews.

The presence of low-quality studies doesn’t mean acupuncture doesn’t work. It only means more large-scale research is needed to confirm the findings.

How soon you see results from acupuncture will depend on your anxiety symptoms and their causes.

Short-term anxiety, like what you may experience before medical procedures, can respond immediately to acupuncture treatment. Other forms of anxiety may take several sessions before you notice results.

If you’re interested in trying acupuncture for anxiety, try asking local, licensed acupuncturists how many sessions they typically recommend.

Acupuncture is considered to be very safe. There’s no evidence to suggest it can make anxiety worse.

That being said, carefully selecting your acupuncturist can help decrease the chances you may experience a complication.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles. They’re considered medical devices and may only be used by licensed professionals.

Many of the complications associated with acupuncture come from improper technique, unlicensed use, or unsterile needles.

You may want to consult with a doctor before acupuncture if you’re pregnant or if you’re experiencing:

  • a bleeding disorder
  • seizures
  • a skin disorder
  • chronic infection

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice that involves inserting thin needles into the skin.

While it’s considered an alternative therapy, meaning it’s not standard in clinical practice, research suggests it may have a number of health benefits.

These potential benefits, such as relief from anxiety, may be due to how acupuncture needles stimulate nerves and chemical responses throughout the body.

If you’re considering acupuncture as a way to manage anxiety symptoms, a healthcare professional may be able to help you select a licensed acupuncturist.

You can also search the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine directory for a board certified, licensed professional near you.

Finding an acupuncture professional who is licensed and uses proper sterilization techniques can help lower the chances of complications from the treatment.