Acupuncture for Constipation

Constipation refers to stools which are difficult to pass or are unduly dry, or to stools which are passed infrequently.

Most people experience constipation at some time in their lives, and while for most people it is only a temporary condition with no lasting ill effects, for some people it can be long lasting and painful. Ongoing constipation can also lead to complications, such as faecal impaction (where dry, hard stools collect in the rectum) or faecal incontinence (where there is involuntary leakage of liquid stools around solid impacted stools). Diverticulosis, the forming of small pouches in the wall of the colon, can also result, and these can become inflamed or infected, causing diverticulitis and abdominal pain. Constipation is twice as common in women as in men and pregnant women and old people are particularly prone to it.

Constipation and TCM

The TCM approach to health is a holistic one, and so a problem like constipation is seen within the context of the individual as a whole, and treatment is tailored to that individual. From this point of view, constipation can arise:

  • When there is insufficient Qi in the digestive system to move the stools through. In this case there may also be tiredness, a poor appetite, weakness of the arms and legs and slight bloating. The constipation may be worse when we are tired.

  • When the Qi is not flowing freely. Emotional frustration and stress tend to inhibit the free flowing of Qi around the body, and this can easily affect the intestines, causing constipation which is worse at times of stress.

  • When the stomach and intestines are too dry. This can arise if there is too much heat in the system, possibly from consuming food and drink which is (energetically) hot; or from a lack of body fluids.

One at least of these three factors is likely to be involved in most cases of constipation. Treatment begins with a detailed consultation in which the therapist comes to understand in detail how the digestive system is impaired and which of the above factors are involved; and also how this relates to the health of the other organ systems and the individual in general. The TCM approach is to see the symptom of constipation within the context of the person and their life as a whole.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Constipation?

A study1 of 50 cases of obstipation (severe constipation) treated by acupuncture showed good results in all but two cases; most patients were able to empty their bowels within one hour of treatment.


1 Shi X  (1982) Clinical Observation on Fifty Cases of Constipation Treated with Acupuncture Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 2(2) 162


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.