Acupuncture is an alternative medical treatment that involves inserting tiny needles into specific points on a person’s body. This approach may treat certain pains and illnesses, with some experts stating it could help with irritable bowel syndrome.

Acupuncture aims to balance a person’s energy. Some claim this can help boost a person’s well-being, treat pain, and cure some illnesses.

Acupuncture originates from traditional Chinese medicine. Research suggests the practice is effective in treating certain types of pain.

However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that there is limited evidence suggesting acupuncture effectively treats ailments other than pain.

This article looks at whether acupuncture can help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.

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IBS refers to a group of symptoms that occur together, the most common of which are:

  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • bloating
  • the feeling of an unfinished bowel movement
  • whitish mucus in the stool

Some people with the condition claim that acupuncture has been very useful in helping relieve IBS-related symptoms. However, others with IBS say it offers no relief from these symptoms.

One older 2010 study involving 230 people with IBS gave some participants acupuncture and others a “sham” treatment, or placebo acupuncture. The study also included a control group that received no treatment at all.

The researchers found no difference in results between those who received the acupuncture and those who received the placebo acupuncture.

However, both groups of participants experienced more symptom relief than the control group. This study may suggest that positive results from acupuncture are due to the placebo effect.

Acupuncture practitioners may debate this conclusion, arguing that there is no way to provide “sham acupuncture.” This is because the results of acupuncture are systemic and less dependent upon the exact location of the needle insertion.

They may also argue that any insertion of an acupuncture needle is acupuncture, so any results of sham acupuncture are the results of the practice itself. Therefore, concluding that these positive results are due to the placebo effect may be inaccurate and actually demonstrate that acupuncture works.

A 2014 review of several controlled trials concludes that acupuncture effectively treats IBS symptoms. The research showed that the practice helped ease symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and the sensation of incomplete bowel movements.

The review authors added that there were some limitations within the review, meaning they could not recommend acupuncture as a first-line treatment for IBS. They also stated that there was no evidence of the long term benefits of acupuncture for individuals with this condition.

One 2017 study compared acupuncture with traditional Western medicines for treating diarrhea associated with IBS. The study divided 61 IBS patients into two groups. One group received abdominal acupuncture, and the other group received pinaverium bromide tablets.

The results showed that acupuncture was a more effective treatment than Western medication. It stated that acupuncture effectively relieved abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, poor stool output, and stool abnormalities.

Another 2020 study compared acupuncture with traditional medication: polyethylene glycol 4000, or pinaverium bromide. The study found that acupuncture was a more effective treatment for the symptoms of IBS than this medicine.

Acupuncture points are specific parts of the body where acupuncture practitioners place their needles.

Below are some acupuncture points that these practitioners may use when treating people with IBS.

  • Yin Tang (GV29): This pressure point lies between the eyebrows.
  • Bai Hui (GV20): This pressure point is on the top of the head.
  • Tai Chong (LR3): This pressure point sits on the foot between the first and second metatarsal bones.
  • Zu San Li (ST36): This pressure point is below the kneecap, between the two bones of the lower leg.
  • San Yin Jiao (SP6): This pressure point lies four finger-widths above the highest point of the ankle on the inside of the leg.
  • Tian Shu (ST25): This pressure point sits on either side of the navel on the abdomen.

Here are some other alternative treatments for people with IBS.


Hypnotherapy involves using hypnosis to treat specific symptoms or health conditions.

According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), several clinical studies have shown that the practice can effectively treat people with IBS.

The IFFGD states that hypnotherapy for IBS involves progressive relaxation, soothing imagery, and sensations that focus on the individual’s symptoms. The organization adds that hypnotherapy has led to people experiencing improvements in well-being, quality of life, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a method of working with people to explore relationships between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The approach looks at how these relationships affect a person’s well-being.

IBS is a chronic condition that is difficult to treat. Psychological processes play a role in both the development and the maintenance of the disorder. Some studies have shown that CBT can help provide significant and long-lasting improvements to IBS symptoms.

Relaxation techniques

Certain mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and somatic symptom disorder, can cause IBS or worsen its symptoms.

Therefore, people with IBS may wish to use relaxation techniques to help control some symptoms of IBS.

According to the IFFGD, some of the following relaxation techniques may help a person with this condition:

  • diaphragm breathing techniques
  • muscle relaxation techniques
  • visualization of positive imagery

Dietary changes

A person’s diet can affect their IBS symptoms. Some foods may worsen these symptoms, so a person with the condition may wish to avoid them.

Common foods that may cause IBS issues include:

  • beans
  • cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli
  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • coffee
  • sodas
  • dairy products

Healthcare experts may suggest the following changes to help with IBS:

  • adjusting diets
  • increasing physical activity
  • reducing stressful life situations as much as possible
  • improving the amount of sleep a person gets

A healthcare professional may also recommend using medicines to treat certain symptoms of IBS. The following medicines may treat IBS with diarrhea:

  • loperamide
  • rifaximin
  • eluxadoline
  • alosetron, although this is only available to females and has special warnings and precautions

The following medicines may treat IBS with constipation:

  • fiber supplements
  • laxatives
  • lubiprostone
  • linaclotide
  • plecanatide

Doctors may prescribe additional medications to treat any abdominal pain due to IBS:

  • antispasmodics
  • antidepressants
  • coated peppermint oil capsules

Healthcare professionals may also recommend that a person with IBS takes probiotics. These feature live microorganisms, most commonly bacteria, that can benefit a person’s health.

People can use probiotics to balance their intestinal flora, known as the gut microbiome. Probiotics can help digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, or produce vitamins.

Some studies show that probiotics can help improve the symptoms of IBS.

If a person believes they may have IBS, they should contact a doctor. A healthcare professional can offer a diagnosis and devise treatment strategies if necessary.

To diagnose IBS, doctors usually review symptoms, medical and family history, and perform a physical exam. Doctors may order blood or stool tests to rule out other health problems in some cases.

If a person already has IBS and they experience a sudden worsening of symptoms, they may also wish to consult a doctor.

An individual with IBS may wish to seek medical attention if they experience:

  • abdominal pain or cramping that is more severe than expected
  • gas that is strong-smelling, painful, or otherwise different from usual
  • mucus in the stool
  • severe diarrhea or constipation

Acupuncture is a medical treatment that originates from traditional Chinese medicine. It involves inserting needles or applying pressure to certain points on the body.

IBS is a long term gastrointestinal disorder that can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.

Some evidence states acupuncture can help ease IBS symptoms, while some research also shows that this may be due to the placebo effect.

However, several medications are available to treat the varying symptoms of IBS.

A person can also use other approaches to treat IBS symptoms, such as hypnotherapy, CBT, relaxation techniques, and dietary changes.