Treating Psoriasis with Acupuncture - Ancient Chinese Medical Knowledge in the Modern World
Updated: May 28, 2020
The Chinese have been using acupuncture to treat psoriasis for thousands of years—descriptions of the disease are found in the earliest Chinese medical texts. At the Sean Barkes Clinic we follow in this tradition.
Treatment begins with a careful examination of the affected parts of the body and a detailed consultation in which we discuss not only how you experience the psoriasis (Does it itch? Does it feel hot? Does it get worse if you are stressed?….) but other aspects of your health as well. This is because our treatment is holistic and we consider that what is happening on the surface of the body in some way reflects various imbalances deeper within. You could say that we don’t so much treat the psoriasis as the person who is suffering from the psoriasis.
From this perspective, psoriasis is just the manifestation of an underlying imbalance and we use our understanding of the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to figure out what this imbalance is. So when you first come for treatment we do a detailed consultation in which we ask quite a few questions about your health, everything from how you sleep to the state of your bowels, from headaches to perspiration; we are looking for clues about what is going on inside. We take your pulse and look at your tongue (if you don’t mind sticking it out at us!). All this helps us understand, in terms of Chinese medical theory, what is giving rise to the psoriasis.
Once we have this understanding, which we will share with you, we can use acupuncture to start to resolve this underlying disharmony. This involves inserting a few very fine needles into key points on the body, called acupuncture points. We choose points which enable us to regulate your Qi (a Chinese word used to collective function and vitality of an organism. Literally, ‘life-force’ or ‘vital energy’) and move you in the direction of balance and full health. The needles are so fine that you probably won’t even feel them go in; its certainly not like having an injection! Most people find treatment itself deeply relaxing.
Our treatment is thus individualised to each patient – no two people with psoriasis are the same, and we think it is important that treatment reflects this. We can also, therefore, discuss with you other things you may be able to do that will help restore your health.
The holistic approach means that we look not only to reduce or even eliminate the psoriasis, but to help you to even better health overall.
Our treatment of psoriatic arthritis follows the same principles; again we see the joint pain as a manifestation of a deeper disharmony.
Whilst Chinese Medicine has been treating psoriasis for thousands of years, there has yet to be very much scientific research done on its effectiveness for this condition. One large scale Chinese study of 600 psoriasis patients treated with TCM found substantial improvement, with at least 60% of the skin rash disappearing, in over 500 of the patients, with 370 of these classified as ‘cured’.
Finally, a little story about one of our patients. She initially came for treatment for Raynaud’s disease – she felt the cold very easily, and especially her hands and feet would get painfully cold. We treated her with acupuncture and moxibustion (where we warm the acupuncture point and body tissue surrounding it with the herb artemisia vulgaris, or mugwort), aiming to stimulate and invigorate the flow of Qi through her limbs. After three or four treatments this was working very well, and we suggested that we might also be able to help with her psoriasis, which she had been suffering from for most of her adult life (she was in her mid-60s). She was surprised to hear that we could treat psoriasis and, buoyed by the improvement in her health so far, keen to find out if it would help; she had been used to keeping her arms and legs covered whatever the weather, and did not feel able to do things like go to the swimming baths. .
From our point of view, in this case there was a definite link between the cold limbs and the psoriasis, both being at least in part due to impairment of the flow of Qi through the limbs, resulting in coldness and lack of nourishment to the skin. Again the treatment proved effective – although for a while there were occasional flare-ups of the psoriasis, in general there was a big improvement, which we managed to sustain with monthly ‘top-up’ treatments. You can read this patient’s own words (and those of her grateful husband!) here.
Written by Sean