Have you ever thought of being stuck with needles all over your body to reduce bladder pain? Does acupuncture not only seem unpleasant but also baffling as to how it could be effective for interstitial cystitis (IC) and other bladder concerns? After all, how could having needles sticking out of your head or hand or wherever acupuncturists poke and prod have anything to do with managing bladder pain?
Well, the truth is that there’s very little evidence that acupuncture is effective for bladder issues. There’s a handful of small studies like this one from Poland, which examined 12 IC patients (all female). The participants received ten sessions of acupuncture twice a week. The efficacy of the treatment was based on responses to the interstitial cystitis symptom index; interstitial cystitis problem index; O’Leary-Sant symptom score (OSS); Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ9); Pelvic pain and urgency & frequency patient symptom scale tests, and maximum voided volume.
(Talk about a lot of forms to fill!) The evaluations were completed in the first, third, sixth and 12th month following the treatment. The results? There was a statistically significant decrease in all of the scores, especially after the first month. The researchers therefore concluded, “The results of this study suggest that acupuncture appears to be an effective, useful, non-invasive method in IC and Bladder Pain Syndrome patients.”
Unfortunately, large, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind research studies are extremely expensive. Unless a drug is being tested (such as Elmiron), there’s no financial incentive to test herbal medicines for IC or alternative therapies like acupuncture.
How Does Acupuncture Work For IC and Bladder Pain?
In Oriental medicine, there’s more to an organ than its physical, Western anatomical counterpart. Sure, in Far Eastern traditional healing, the bladder’s main role is transforming fluids and excreting urine; the same deal as what we in the west associate with the bladder. But in acupuncture theory, each organ is tied to an emotion. And if you’re somebody who holds on to grudges and has fear, there’s a good chance your bladder could use a tune-up.
We’ll get back to the emotional component of the bladder in just a bit. But if you’re wondering how needles all over the body can target the bladder, this brings us to another way in which traditional medicine theory differs from Western medicine…
Several different traditional healing systems from around the world believe in the concept of an invisible network of energy centers around the body. These are called, depending on the origin of the healing system, meridians, chakras, channels, or nadis. Each organ system is associated with several different points around the body. The essence of acupuncture is to manipulate these points along the body’s energy highway system, either strengthening an organ that needs it, or calming it down.
(You can experiment with these points on your own body. Next time you feel tension or get a headache, squeeze the fleshy part of your hand between your thumb and pointer finger with the opposite hand’s thumb and pointer finger.)
The Link Between Treating Back Pain and Bladder Pain In Acupuncture
Again, in traditional medicine, organs have more than just a physiological function. Another difference in Oriental medicine, of which acupuncture is one modality, is that every organ has a paired organ. The bladder’s paired organ is the kidney. Oriental medicine believes that the kidney is the source of the body’s energy and vitality. Poor diet, stress, lack of exercise and the aging process weaken the kidneys. And when the kidneys become weak, so, too, does the bladder.
The low back and knees are controlled by the kidney organ system. This is why many people who have IC or bladder issues also experience low back pain. So in an acupuncture session, the licensed therapist will work on points on the body to strengthen both the kidneys and bladder. (The bladder energy system runs down the length of the spine on both sides; it’s the longest and biggest meridian.)
Are You A Grudge Holder? Your Bladder Won’t Be Better For It!
As mentioned above, organs aren’t just for physical function in traditional medicine. Each organ is also associated with seasons, a specific time of day, one of the five elements (earth, wind, fire, metal, water) and emotions. The bladder’s paired organ, the kidneys are associated with fear in Oriental medicine. If you’re feeling fear (especially in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic), you may want to consider an acupuncture session—provided that the therapy is available in your area, and can be facilitated in a safe way.
A bladder that is out of balance may contribute to negative emotions such as holding grudges as well as jealousy and xenophobia (being suspicious of others, especially strangers or foreigners).
Does Acupuncture for IC Hurt?
There’s no reason to fear getting poked by several needles. An experienced acupuncturist will delicately and quickly insert the needles, and most of the time you will barely feel them. Once in a while, you may feel a slightly uncomfortable poke but it’s not anywhere as painful as ear piercing or a bee sting.
Keep in mind that acupuncture may take several sessions to notice positive outcomes, and you may have to continue with it to manage your pain. Many health insurance plans, including health savings accounts, cover acupuncture.