Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has used acupuncture for many years to treat osteoporosis and other conditions. Current research into acupuncture for osteoporosis is promising and suggests it may help improve bone mineral density.

However, more research is necessary to determine how acupuncture works as a treatment for the condition and its long-term effects.

This article examines whether osteoporosis for acupuncture is effective and how it may work. It also looks at the best acupuncture points for osteoporosis, what to expect from the treatment, and how to find an acupuncturist.

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Osteoporosis is when the body absorbs more bone tissue than it replaces. This causes the bones to lose density and become porous and weakened.

Acupuncture involves stimulating specific points according to “qi” — an energy that flows through meridians in the body, according to TCM.

The technique usually involves inserting thin needles into the acupuncture points in specific combinations.

Is it effective?

In a 2022 review of 290 papers on acupuncture for osteoporosis, researchers found that preclinical and clinical studies demonstrated that acupuncture had therapeutic effects on osteoporosis.

However, the researchers highlighted that further research was necessary to determine the efficacy and safety of acupuncture as a long-term osteoporosis treatment.

The researchers noted that preclinical animal studies on acupuncture remain controversial, as some researchers question whether acupuncture points correspond in humans and animals.

This could affect how scientists translate and understand acupuncture’s effects on osteoporosis.

The researchers also point to a lack of high quality studies on the efficacy and safety of acupuncture for this bone condition.

Clinical research also shows that acupuncture can enhance bone mineral density in people with postmenopausal osteoporosis. The technique may also help relieve pain in osteoporosis.

Although the current research suggests acupuncture may be a complementary treatment for the condition, there is a lack of research on its efficacy in the long term.

The researchers also highlight safety concerns, as acupuncture for osteoporosis may cause an increase in the hormone estradiol, which could lead to side effects.

Therefore, large randomized controlled clinical trials are necessary to determine how this method may affect osteoporosis and if it can safely help people manage the condition.

Researchers do not completely understand the underlying mechanisms behind the potential benefits of acupuncture for osteoporosis.

They believe the method may help activate and regulate specific signaling pathways in the body, allowing cells to communicate with each other.

These include:

  • Wnt/β-catenin pathway: This consists of a group of proteins that play an important role in maintaining tissue balance. This can influence bone formation and metabolism, affecting the rate of bone tissue absorption and formation.
  • Osteoprotegerin and receptor activator of nuclear factor-kB ligand pathway: This system consists of proteins essential to the maturation of osteoclasts. These cells break down old bone tissue and form new bone tissue.

Acupuncture for osteoporosis may also help stimulate and regulate hormone production. Animal studies have found that the technique could increase estrogen and testosterone levels, possibly improving bone density.

According to a 2022 review of studies on acupuncture for osteoporosis, the ten most common acupuncture points for osteoporosis are:

  • BL23: Shenshu, the urinary bladder meridian, located to the right of the spine in the lower back.
  • ST36: Zusanli, the stomach meridian, located below the knee.
  • BL20: Pishu, the urinary bladder meridian, located below BL18 in the middle back.
  • BL11: Dazhu, the urinary bladder meridian, located between the spine and the top of the shoulder right blade.
  • CV4: Guanyuan, the conception vessel meridian, located below the navel.
  • GV4: Mingmen, the governing vessel meridian, located on the spine in the lower back.
  • SP6: Sanyinjiao, the spleen meridian, located above the ankle bone on the inside of the leg.
  • KI3: Taixi, the kidney meridian, located in a depression between the bony bump on the inner ankle and the Achilles tendon.
  • BL18: Ganshu, the urinary bladder meridian, located to the right of the spine in the middle back.
  • GB39: Xuanzhong, the gallbladder meridian, located above the bone on the outside of the ankle.

Applying acupressure to points at home is safe. However, people should never attempt to perform acupuncture on themselves at home and need to find a qualified, licensed professional to try the method.

An acupuncturist may begin the initial session by assessing the person’s health and medical history and a physical examination.

The individual will remove the necessary clothing and sit or lie down. The acupuncturist will then insert fine needles into specific points, either just under the skin or deeper into the muscle.

The needles usually remain in place for a few minutes and not generally longer than around 30 minutes.

The process is not typically painful, although a person may experience a dull ache or tingling sensation.

A person should not replace their medical treatment for osteoporosis with acupuncture. They should also not change their current treatment without discussing it with their doctor first.

Additionally, individuals should find a qualified acupuncturist and check their credentials before booking a session.

It is important to receive acupuncture from a properly trained professional, as improper technique may result in injury and infection.

Individuals can search for an acupuncturist in the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine directory.

Some states require acupuncturists to have a license. A person can search Acupuncture License Lookup to determine an acupuncturist’s license verification status.

Current research suggests osteoporosis may be beneficial for osteoporosis, although more quality, large-scale studies are necessary.

Researchers believe acupuncture may help activate signaling pathways that increase bone tissue production. However, further research is necessary to determine exactly how acupuncture may affect osteoporosis as well as the long-term effects of the treatment.

A person should not stop their current osteoporosis treatment for acupuncture and should receive medical diagnosis and treatment for the condition.