Interstitial Cystitis, Protocols

Acupuncture for Interstitial Cystitis and Pelvic Pain

Acupuncture has been used widely for chronic pain conditions for a long time and therefore lends itself as a potential therapy for interstitial cystitis and pelvic pain and I’m sure at least some of you have already tried it.

It seems to me that acupuncture is widely accepted these days by conventional practitioners, but as with any abstract therapy it remains controversial. In today’s post I’d like to take a closer look at what evidence we have for it.

What is Acupuncture and how it Works

Acupuncture is a therapy that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years.

It works by inserting fine needles into the skin of specific body sites (called acupoints or acupuncture points) to stimulate them. Pressure, heat or electrical stimulation are sometimes used to enhance these effects.

Acupuncture is based on the belief that a vital life force called ‘qi’ runs through the body along specific pathways, called meridians. Blockage of the flow of ‘qi’ leads to malfunction and eventually to disease. Acupuncture is designed to clear the blockages so that ‘qi’ can flow freely again.

Of course, this concept sounds rather abstract and esoteric, which is why acupuncture remains controversial.

However, we do have some more scientific explanations on how it might work [1]:

  • It may increase blood flow. Blood flow is really important to deliver oxygen and nutrients to body sites, especially when they are damaged. Therefore, by increasing blood flow, acupuncture could assist tissue recovery.
  • It might stimulate healing of tissue through inducing micro-traumas. As the body deals with the micro-trauma induced by needles it could potentially deal with the surrounding areas as well.
  • Acupuncture may regulate stress. With stress being the biggest trigger for chronic conditions, this may explain why Acupuncture seems to be helpful.
  • Acupuncture needles positively affect nerves. Some nerve fibres actually branch exactly at acupuncture sites [2] and insertion of needles at these points may disrupt the nerve circuit and numb our sensitivity to pain [2].

Evidence for Acupuncture and Chronic Pain

A recent meta-analysis [3] (which is considered to be best evidence) has looked at the evidence for acupuncture and chronic pain conditions (namely non-specific musculoskeletal pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, or shoulder pain).

Only trials that were designed as ‘double-blind’ were included.

The conclusion was that Acupuncture was superior to both sham Acupuncture and no acupuncture as controls and that there was clear evidence that the effects of acupuncture persist over time [3] and the authors concluded that it is an effective therapy for chronic pain that cannot be explained solely by placebo.

So theoretically, acupuncture should be useful for IC sufferers. But let’s look at what the evidence says…

Evidence for Acupuncture for Interstitial Cystitis and Pelvic Pain

Interstitial cystitis

Acupuncture was identified as one of the top 3 complimentary therapies for IC [4]

Several studies have found acupuncture to be an effective therapy for relieving symptoms associated with IC such as pain, frequency, urgency and nocturia [5, 6, 7, 8] as well as the emotional state of sufferers [6].

However, it has been observed that response to treatment seems to lessen over time compared to the first 3 months [8].

Overactive Bladder

There is early evidence that acupuncture may be as effective in increasing bladder capacity and reducing pressure as the drug oxybutynin [5].

A study looking at acupuncture compared to the OAB medication solifenacin or a placebo found that acupuncture achieved significant differences in symptoms and quality of life compared to a placebo but showed no effect in some patients (~ 2.8%) [9]

Another study looking specifically frequency, urgency and dysuria measured urodynamics before and during acupuncture treatment and found no significant differences at follow-up [10]. Any positive effects noted were temporary, so repeated therapy sessions were necessary to maintain beneficial effects [10].

Prostatitis and Pelvic Pain

We have some evidence that acupuncture may be effective in providing symptom relief for chronic prostatitis and pelvic pain in men [11]

My Experience with Acupuncture for Interstitial Cystitis

When I had IC really bad, I tried acupuncture for a few months. I can’t remember why I chose it, I assume it was recommended to me.

The doctor only spoke Chinese, so the diagnosis relied on the receptionist’s translations. I didn’t really know what was going on with me at the time, so all I described was that I had bladder pain when really I was suffering from a host of other issues. As a consequence, I don’t think their assessment of my case was complete and the needles were only positioned in the bladder area.

During the session, my pain and urgency always seemed to get worse, followed by a day of pain relief.

At the start I did 2 sessions per week, but then reduced them down to once a week because of finances, although it was recommended to me to come more often.

To sum it up, the acupuncture sessions provided some relief but it never lasted longer than a day. I may have had better results if I had done more frequent sessions, but that of course is costly without insurance. I also feel like a more thorough case review may have improved the accuracy of treatment and potentially its benefits.

I stopped treatment after a few months and had no lasting benefits after stopping treatment.

Now I’d like to hear from you: Have you tried acupuncture? What is your experience?

Pin it for later:


UC San Diego School of Medicine About Acupuncture accessed Jan 2019

  1. Kresser, Chris Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part IV): How Acupuncture Works March 2010
  2. Vlasto, Tima New Scientific Breakthrough Proves Why Acupuncture Works ACTCM accessed Jan 2019
  3. Vickers, A. J. et al (2018). Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), 455–474.
  4. Verghese, T.S., Riordain, R.N., Champaneria, R. et al. Complementary therapies for bladder pain syndrome: a systematic review Int Urogynecol J (2016) 27: 1127.
  5. Kelleher C, Filshie J, Burton G, et al Acupuncture and the treatment of irritative bladder symptoms Acupuncture in Medicine 1994;12:9-12.
  6. Holford, Ester and Tucker, Toni An Investigation into the Treatment of Interstitial Cystitis with Acupuncture Journal of Chinese Medicine Oct 2010 [Number 94: 26-32]
  7. Katayama, Y. et al [Effectiveness of acupuncture and moxibustion therapy for the treatment of refractory interstitial cystitis] Acta Urologica Japonica [01 May 2013, 59(5):265-269]
  8. Mehmet Giray Sönmez, Betül Kozanhan Complete response to acupuncture therapy in female patients with refractory interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome Ginekol Pol 2017;88(2):61-67
  9. Aydoğmuş, Y. et al Acupuncture versus Solifenacin for Treatment of Overactive Bladder and Its Correlation with Urine Nerve Growth Factor Levels: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial Urol Int 2014;93:437-443
  10. Phei-lang Chang et al Long-term Outcome of Acupuncture in Women with Frequency, Urgency and Dysuria The American Journal of Chinese MedicineVol. 21, No. 03n04, pp. 231-236 (1993)
  11. Capodice, J. et al A pilot study on acupuncture for lower urinary tract symptoms related to chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain Chinese Medicine 2007 2:1


  • Reply


    January 14, 2019

    I have fibromyalgia and interstitial cystitis. I have tried acupuncture multiple times. It never did anything for interstitial cystitis, and for fibromyalgia, not much. It seemed like the first or second appointment I had a little lessening of pain, but after that, I really got nothing out of the next five appointments each time. I stopped because it was too expensive for something not working.

    • Reply


      January 14, 2019

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Steve. That’s a bit similar to my own experience.

  • Reply


    July 23, 2019

    Acupuncture does work, but you have to continue with treatment for long term 5 treatment is not enough. Also acupuncture combined with herbs and lifestyle changes with diet changes will do wonders

  • Reply

    Fitoru Keto

    May 22, 2020

    Acupuncture really works! I can attest to it! It actually makes me so fresh after undergoing that procedure.

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