The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Acupuncture Ease the Pain of Neuropathy?

A reader reports that acupuncture offered relief from the pain of neuropathy due to chemotherapy. Scientific reviews support this possibility.
Foot cramps neuropathy nerve pain foot pain plantar fasciitis

Peripheral neuropathy, pain in the feet and legs (or occasionally even in the hands and arms), can be challenging to treat. Ideally, of course, the physician would identify what was causing the nerves to misfire and cause pain and then treat the underlying condition. That is not always possible, however. Elevated blood sugar in diabetes begins damaging tiny blood vessels and nerves long before symptoms become apparent. Chemotherapy may cause nerve pain as a side effect of fighting off cancer. And sometimes, doctors can’t identify the root cause. They may prescribe medications to manage nerve pain, but many have drawbacks. Might acupuncture help relieve the pain of neuropathy?

Q. In one article, you offered suggestions for an alternative to gabapentin for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy. I suffer from neuropathy as a result of cancer treatments. Although I took gabapentin for ten years, it never really worked well for me. I had to keep increasing the dosage, but eventually I could no longer tolerate it.

My medical oncologist suggested acupuncture, and I found a skilled practitioner. Acupuncture has brought me amazing relief. The key is to find an acupuncturist who knows how to treat chronic pain.

Acupuncture for the Pain of Neuropathy:

A. A systematic review of acupuncture for treating chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy concluded that this is an effective approach (Integrative Cancer Therapies, Jan-Dec. 2019). The scientists did make a plea for further study, and another systematic review also called for more research (Current Oncology, April 2019). These reviewers found insufficient evidence to determine if acupuncture is effective the pain of neuropathy caused by chemotherapy. 

They offered this conclusion, however:

“Given that acupuncture is considered safe and might provide relief for patients, it can be considered at the clinician’s discretion.”

Another review looked more broadly at nondrug approaches for easing the pain of neuropathy (Current Treatment Options in Neurology, Sep. 2, 2019). The investigators endorsed diet and exercise, but added that clinicians might also recommend acupuncture and yoga or supplements such as vitamin B12, alpha lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine. Patients deficient in vitamin D benefit from supplements to overcome the deficiency.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Chien TJ et al, "The Efficacy of acupuncture in chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: Systematic review and meta-analysis." Integrative Cancer Therapies, Jan-Dec. 2019. DOI: 10.1177/1534735419886662
  • Li K et al, "A systematic review of acupuncture for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy." Current Oncology, April 2019. DOI: 10.3747/co.26.4261
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I have relief from peripheral neuropathy with benfotiamine and alpha lipoic acid. Now I read it effects sugar that cancer feeds on and can cause any cancer cells in the body to grow wildly. Is this true or just drug company hype to sell more expensive drugs such as Gabapentin?

This combination is used in cancer treatment to improve quality of life. Also, research indicates that its effect on sugar metabolism is beneficial, not harmful. Here’s the link:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18663426

“The key is to find an acupuncturist who knows how to treat chronic pain.”

This statement says it all!

Just how can we determine which acupuncturist knows how to treat chronic pain? Is there any organization which evaluates the individuals who practice this?

I know from experience that not all are worthy of our trust.

I would like any and all information on neuropathy. Mine came on in spite of good glucose readings.
My doctor thinks my statin drugs caused it.

Maybe relief is specific for chemical-induced neuropathy because hundreds of needle sticks with three different acupuncturists and varied styles did nothing for my fibromyalgia neuropathy-like leg pain.

B-12 and Alpha Lipoic Acid have stopped the electrical, tingling, shooting pains in my feet and legs caused by neuropathy.

Acupuncture has provided great relief to some of the problems I experience.
Migraine relief is swift. Gout dramatically relieved in less than half hour.
Inflammation and pain disappear, and I can walk normally.

I have 12 years of chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy which is severe in fingers and feet. I have tried 3 different acupuncture therapists and received no help at all. So discouraging.

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