The tingling skin and urge to scratch known as itching are a protective response triggered in the brain. While most itching is harmless, the uncomfortable sensation may lead to excessive scratching, damaging the skin. Acupuncture, a traditional Asian healing technique, may be used to relieve itching. As with any new treatment technique, consult your doctor before using acupuncture.
Causes of Itching
The possible causes of itching are varied, and range from dry skin to damaged nerves. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology describes four categories of itching: pruriceptive, neuropathic, neurogenic and psychogenic. Pruriceptive itching is the result of skin damage resulting from a number of conditions including hives, drug reactions, eczema, and inflammation. Damage to the nervous system causes neuropathic itching, while neurogenic itching occurs with chronic liver and kidney disease. Imbalances in the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine may cause psychogenic itching, which is typically treated with antidepressant and antipsychotic medications.
Acupuncture Treatment for Itching
Acupuncturists assess their patients’ symptoms to tailor treatments that address each individual’s specific needs. Because acupuncture is so individualized, patients may receive different treatments for the same health complaints. The Yin Yang House acupuncture clinic in Chattanooga, Tennessee notes several acupuncture points that are commonly used to treat itching. For example, the Gall Bladder 31 point located on the thigh is indicated for red, itchy skin. Urinary Bladder 17 is an important point for itchy skin disorders like eczema, and is found on the back near the spine. The Urinary Bladder 13 point, located near Urinary Bladder 17, is used for hives and acne, along with generalized itching.
A 2010 review published in “Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology & Venereology” evaluated scientific research and case studies on the use of acupuncture and itching. The studies included in the review reported that acupuncture treatments reduced the intensity, distribution or duration of itching. The reviewers noted, however, that the available reports relied on single-case studies or low numbers of episodes. As a result, the review concluded that while acupuncture showed promise as a treatment for itching, more research and testing are needed to prove its effectiveness.
Millions of Americans receive acupuncture treatments every year with few reported side effects. Although it is generally considered to be safe, acupuncture may have serious adverse effects if administered by an untrained or inexperienced practitioner, including infections from improper sanitation or punctured organs from incorrectly placed needles. To ensure safe care, check your acupuncturist’s credentials, and do not rely on a diagnosis from an acupuncturist who does not have traditional medical training.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: What Makes Us Itch?
- "Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology & Venereology"; Therapeutic and Experimental Therapeutic Studies on Acupuncture and Itch: Review of the Literature; C.P. Carlsson, et al.; September 2010
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; Acupuncture: An Introduction; August 2011
- Yin Yang House: GB 31 Acupuncture Point - Feng Shi - Gall Bladder Meridian
- Yin Yang House: UB 17 Acupuncture Point - Ge Shu - Bladder Meridian
- Yin Yang House: UB 13 Acupuncture Point - Fei Shu - Bladder Meridian