There is some evidence that acupuncture for overactive bladder (OAB) may ease symptoms or improve people’s quality of life. However, the research is not conclusive.

A 2018 review notes some studies that suggest acupuncture could be beneficial for people with OAB. However, the authors state that the evidence is not strong enough to prove it works as a treatment, either alone or in combination with drugs.

Still, acupuncture is generally safe and causes few side effects. If a person with OAB wants to try acupuncture as a complementary therapy, it may provide some benefits.

Keep reading to learn more about acupuncture for OAB, including its benefits and risks.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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It is unclear if acupuncture helps with OAB. While some people report feeling a benefit for their OAB symptoms, scientific evidence to support this is limited.

A 2018 review of 10 clinical trials investigated the use of acupuncture in adults with OAB compared with sham acupuncture, medications, and acupuncture combined with medications.

Sham acupuncture involves inserting needles into the skin at nontraditional acupuncture points. Scientists use this as a point of comparison to determine if real acupuncture is superior.

The authors concluded that acupuncture might decrease the following:

However, they noted that the evidence was insufficient overall. A 2022 review of 15 clinical trials on the same subject was also inconclusive.

More high quality research is necessary to confirm if acupuncture reliably works as a complementary treatment for OAB.

Electroacupuncture is a newer form of acupuncture that involves using electrical stimulation. Research on its effectiveness for OAB is still emerging. So far, there are only a few case reports focusing on specific individuals.

For example, a 2019 case report of a 73-year-old female with OAB found that after 30 days of electroacupuncture treatment, her urination count decreased from 29.3 to 19.8 times per day. Urge incontinence also fell, dropping from 9.3 before treatment to 5.8 after treatment.

Another case report from 2021 showed similar positive results in a 32-year-old female with OAB. However, individual case reports do not prove that a treatment will reliably work across a large population. More research on electroacupuncture is necessary.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners believe that the human body contains a network of energy pathways, or meridians. These meridians form a complex system through which life energy, or qi, flows.

Each meridian aligns with specific organs, body systems, and functions. Acupuncturists aim to access and influence qi using thin needles by inserting needles at particular points.

The bladder meridian has several acupuncture points of interest in OAB treatment. These include:

  • Sanyinjiao: On the inside of the lower leg, above the ankle bone.
  • Pangguangshu: On the sacrum at the base of the back.
  • Ciliao: On the sacrum at the base of the back.
  • Taixi: Near the Achilles tendon on the inside of the ankle.
  • Shenshu: In the middle of the back.

While it is uncertain if acupuncture consistently helps with OAB, it does have several advantages that may make it a useful addition to a person’s treatment plan. These include:

  • Potential as an adjunctive therapy: A person can use acupuncture as a complementary therapy alongside conventional medical treatments. It may help enhance the effectiveness of other interventions, such as medications, although research on this is still ongoing.
  • Reduced need for medications: For individuals who experience side effects from medications, acupuncture may offer an alternative. Easing symptoms could reduce the need for higher medication dosages, minimizing the risk of adverse effects.
  • Safety: Acupuncture is generally safe when a trained professional administers the treatment. It also carries a low risk of side effects. This means that even if it does not help, it carries few risks for most people.
  • Holistic well-being: Acupuncture aims to support the body’s natural healing mechanisms and promote overall well-being. People may find that sessions make them feel relaxed.

However, as with any medical intervention, individual experiences may vary. Therefore, it is important for people to discuss specific health concerns and treatment goals with a doctor to determine the best therapeutic approach.

When a qualified practitioner performs acupuncture, it is usually a safe treatment. However, some minor side effects can occur at the points of needle insertion, including:

In some cases, a person may experience other side effects, including:

Overall, though, adverse reactions to acupuncture are uncommon.

If a person wants to try acupuncture for OAB, it is important they look for a practitioner with experience treating OAB or other urological conditions. A person can try:

  • Seeking recommendations: Doctors may be able to provide recommendations or referrals to acupuncturists with experience treating OAB.
  • Looking up acupuncture associations: People can explore professional associations or regulatory bodies that provide directories of licensed acupuncturists, such as the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
  • Checking credentials: It is important to verify that an acupuncturist is licensed, certified, and has received proper training.
  • Reading reviews: People may want to search for online reviews and testimonials from people who have received acupuncture treatment for OAB. These can provide insights into an acupuncturist’s expertise and professionalism.

According to some studies, acupuncture for overactive bladder (OAB) may reduce urinary frequency and incontinence. However, more research is needed to confirm whether it is an effective treatment, as the evidence is limited.

Despite this, acupuncture is generally safe and has a low risk of causing serious adverse effects. It may be best for people with OAB who want to try it to consult their doctor to see how it could fit into their treatment plan.