Some patients experience only mild pain, but diabetic neuropathy can become a chronic pain symptom for others. And even result in loss of mobility and more severe complications. The reduced ability of nerves to register pressure or injury can also be exacerbated by poor circulation and nerve messaging in the feet or legs, resulting in suppressed wound healing and infections.
For some people, neuropathy can be severe. It can feel like a tingling sensation that is quite painful. One of the risks for people with neuropathy is compromised mobility; patients with moderate to severe symptoms may have an increased risk of tripping or falling injuries.
Treating neuropathic pain is more difficult than other types of pain. Some patients that explore acupuncture do so because prescription pain medications are no longer effective. Strong medications like NSAIDs and opioids can increase nerve sensitivity when used over a long period of time. Unlike prescription pain medications, acupuncture therapy has no side effects or contraindications.
What Causes Diabetic Neuropathy?
Nerve damage for people with diabetes can occur in any body part. But most commonly, nerve damage begins in the legs and feet. The early onset of diabetic neuropathy feels like periodic numbness, as nerves become damaged due to high levels of glucose (sugar) in the body.
Neuropathy impacts approximately 50% of all Americans diagnosed with Type II or Type I diabetes. And neuropathy can also affect normal cardiac, urinary tract, and digestive functioning (not just peripheral extremities).
Prescription medications are often provided for patients with diabetic neuropathy. But the medications do not help resolve the condition. One exciting thing about acupuncture is that the emerging clinical studies that report the ancient Chinese Medicine practice may be safer (and more effective) than pain medications for patients with neuropathic pain.
How Can Acupuncture Help Patients with Neuropathic Pain?
Peripheral neuropathy is diagnosed when nerve damage happens in the legs, feet, hands, fingers, or arms. And when neuropathy occurs for diabetes, the intensity often increases with age, particularly if the patient struggles to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
One of the benefits of acupuncture is that it helps the body release natural endorphins or the “feel-good hormone.” When endorphins are released, the sensation of pain is often reduced for patients.
In one clinical study, patients received six courses of classical acupuncture treatment over a period of ten (10) weeks. The therapy involved using acupuncture points recommended by traditional Chinese Medicine.
Twenty-nine (29) patients of the forty-six (46) participants were already using standard medications and therapies for neuropathy. The study reported that 77% of the patients showed significant improvement in their primary and secondary neuropathy symptoms. And with ongoing acupuncture treatment, 67% of the patients could reduce their pain medications, and some no longer required them for pain management. And 21% reported their neuropathic pain resolved completely with acupuncture after 16-52 weeks.
Acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system (CNS) and stimulates the release of chemicals into the muscle tissue, spinal cord, and brain. This result can help stimulate the body’s natural healing process (which is another benefit for patients with diabetes).
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
If you have looked at pictures of acupuncture, you are probably concerned that it hurts. After all, someone is placing needles under the skin and near muscles around your body. And no one likes needles.
But unlike a hypodermic needle, the size of the acupuncture lance is very thin, often about the thickness of a strand of hair. When the needles are placed in the skin, patients may feel a very light stinging sensation that goes away after insertion. There is a light tapping after each needle is inserted.
Once the needles have been placed, the patient can relax in a quiet room while the treatment takes place. The acupuncturist will insert needles at varying depths, depending on the type of therapy required. And the needles remain for up to twenty minutes to stimulate the central nervous system.
Following acupuncture therapy, there may be light tenderness in the areas where the needles were inserted. But not pain. Patients are advised not to take a sauna or hot bath for a day following an acupuncture treatment, but a warm shower is recommended on the same day as treatment.
Acupuncture May Help Regulate Cortisol and Insulin
While there are many medications available to help people living with diabetes control their blood sugar, they are not without side effects and other health risks. Increasingly patients with diabetes are exploring natural, non-prescription methods of improving control of blood glucose and moderating insulin levels.
Some clinical studies suggest acupuncture may help regulate cortisol (the stress hormone). Cortisol is a beneficial hormone when balanced correctly in the body. However, chronic stress and specific health conditions can elevate cortisol to unhealthy levels.
Psychological stress responses cause an increase in glucocorticoid (cortisol) from the adrenal glands. When this happens, the hormone impairs the body’s ability to secrete insulin to process and regulate glucose, which leads to higher blood sugar levels.
People with diabetes often develop similar physical characteristics that point to a cortisol imbalance. When your body has too much cortisol, you can create a condition called Cushing Syndrome.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms of Cushing Syndrome include:
- Pronounced thick or coarse facial hair
- Abdominal fat
- Fatty deposit behind the neck (known as Buffalo Hump)
- Red cheeks
- Thin arms and legs
- Facial roundness
- Ease of bruising
- Abdominal stretch marks
- Reduced sex drive
- Irregular menses
- Darkening of skin
- High blood pressure
- Depression and anxiety
- Cognitive impairments
- Bone loss
- Reduced muscle mass
Cortisol imbalance can be a precursor to diabetes and a condition that can exacerbate symptoms. Acupuncture has been proven in global studies to help the body reduce or discharge cortisol levels and rebalance adrenal functioning with regular ongoing therapy.
What to Expect from Your Acupuncture Consultation
If you are interested in exploring acupuncture as a preventative or pain management therapy, our experts at Bloom MedSpa can help.
During your free consultation, our practitioner will discuss:
- Your specific diabetes symptoms
- The severity and frequency of discomfort you are experiencing
- The location(s) on your body where pain occurs
- Current lifestyle, including exercise, diet, stress management, and wellness goals
- Other health conditions that may be contributing to your pain symptoms
- Mood inventory (depression and anxiety)
- Problems with high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Sleep patterns or problems with insomnia
During the first month of your acupuncture therapy for diabetic neuropathy, our clinician may suggest two (2) therapeutic sessions per week. And then reevaluate the results from the acupuncture therapy. After the first month of treatment, many patients return for twice-per-month treatments.
Patients should also advise their primary care provider (PCP) that they are receiving acupuncture and review symptoms and A1C levels while engaged in the treatment plan from Bloom MedSpa.
Combining Acupuncture With Deep Tissue Massage Therapy
Massage therapy has been proven to help patients living with diabetes get better control of blood glucose levels. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, nerve damage (neuropathy), serious infections, and joint problems.
Ask our clinical care team at Bloom MedSpa about other types of anti-stress and deep tissue massage therapies you can integrate into your treatment plan.