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Is Acupuncture a Good Treatment Option For OCD?

Mental health conditions, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are extremely common. However, managing these conditions can be challenging. There are a variety of reasons why a person may develop a mental health condition, such as one’s genetics, upbringing, experiences, or environment. Most of these conditions are highly treatable, however, the most common “go-to” treatment protocol involves therapy and prescription medications.

Some people are unable to attend counseling sessions and some prescription medications carry a high risk of serious, long-lasting side effects and drug addiction. Medications also have a habit of masking the problem, rather than trying to find the root cause of the issue, so it can be “cured” or successfully managed. While these treatments may work for many people, who are struggling with mental health issues, they may not work with everyone.

Sometimes, finding the right treatment involves trying different approaches. An alternative treatment commonly used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is acupuncture. Researchers suggest that this approach may be a viable treatment option for people struggling with OCD. If you are wondering if acupuncture could be a good option for your OCD, keep reading. This blog will explain what OCD is, what acupuncture is, how acupuncture can help OCD, the benefits of using acupuncture to treat OCD, and who should and should not use acupuncture to alleviate OCD symptoms.


About OCD

Approximately 2.5 million American adults struggle with OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that can cause a person to get “wrapped up” in an endless cycle of obsessions and/or compulsions. This mental health condition typically presents during childhood or adolescence, although it can also present earlier or later than this time. Obsessions can involve unwanted, intrusive thoughts, urges, fears, or mental images that can sometimes lead to compulsions (rituals or routines) designed to ease the stress and anxiety caused by the obsessions. 

The unwanted and intrusive thoughts, urges, or fears can compel OCD sufferers to repeatedly engage in certain behaviors, such as repeatedly counting, checking, reading words or text, organizing, repeating mantras or phrases, cleaning or decontaminating, etc. These behaviors are excessively and compulsively performed to ease their stress and angst. OCD symptoms tend to come and go for a while before becoming more intense and frequent.

Because these thoughts, fears, urges, mental images, and/or repetitive behaviors are irrational, most OCD sufferers hide them from other people. The secrecy of OCD causes many of these individuals to live very solitary lives. In turn, voluntary self-isolation increases the stress and anxiety, triggering or worsening the OCD in a vicious cycle.

The standard treatment for OCD involves therapy and/or medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), antipsychotics, and/or anticonvulsants. The problem with many of these medications is they come with a host of side effects and can lead to prescription drug addiction. However, alternative treatments like acupuncture do not come with the same risks of side effects or addiction.

Treating OCD

As mentioned above, addressing OCD usually involves a multi-treatment approach – therapy, medication(s), and natural remedies and self-help tools, like OCD support groups, workbooks, podcasts, and healthy coping skills and strategies. But regardless of the approach, most OCD sufferers will need professional help to get their OCD symptoms under control. 

An OCD therapist will craft an individualized treatment plan based on the individual’s needs and concerns. In some severe cases, an inpatient or rehab stay at a mental health facility or hospital may be required. However, most OCD sufferers are able to get their needs met on an outpatient counseling basis. 

An OCD treatment plan may include the following elements:

Another promising OCD treatment that is often dismissed or overlooked is acupuncture. Researchers suggest that combining psychotherapies and medication(s) with acupuncture can yield excellent results for many people with mental health issues. Thus, OCD sufferers may benefit from acupuncture when it is added to psychotherapies, medication(s), and natural remedies, like Impulse Therapy, a convenient online OCD recovery treatment program.

Traditional Chinese Medicine & OCD

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theories, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an affliction of the body that stems from an energy-based disruption in the function of one’s major organs. Chinese medical practitioners (i.e., Chinese acupuncturists or Chinese herbalists) believe that one disease or disorder can be separated into a variety of different patterns, which allows them to develop customized treatments for individuals, rather than using one general treatment for everyone. 

Thus, Chinese medicine practitioners tend to address OCD according to the symptoms, and how it presents in the individual. Understand, however, that OCD sufferers suffer from energy disruptions in more than one organ. For instance, there could be an energy disruption in the spleen that is causing intrusive, unwanted, and repetitive thoughts, urges, fears, or mental images. 

Similarly, an energy disruption in the kidneys may trigger irrational fears that can lead to compulsive behaviors like rituals or routines. For instance, an extreme fear of germs or contamination may stem from disrupted energy in the kidneys. Thus, Chinese medicine practitioners believe that several organs, such as the lungs, heart, liver, and stomach play a role in the development and progression of OCD. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) supports a more specific, unique, and focused way of treating OCD that combines alternative treatments, like acupuncture, with other OCD treatments, like therapy and/or medication(s).

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a type of ancient traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The goal of this practice is to focus on restoring balance and function to energy-disrupted organs and body systems. This is accomplished with microneedles that have been placed at specific target points on the body. 

According to Chinese medicine practitioners, acupuncture helps your body release “blockages,” so it can rebalance and return to a more natural balance. Most people experience a mental, physical, and even spiritual “calmness” or “peace” after getting acupuncture. Thus, this practice can be extreme for some people, who are suffering from anxiety-related disorders, like OCD.

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How Can Acupuncture Help OCD Sufferers?

Acupuncture is not only one of the oldest forms of medicine, but it may also be a viable alternative for standard OCD treatments, like CBT, ERP therapy, and SSRI antidepressants. The primary goal of an acupuncturist is to establish an equilibrium in the body. Treating OCD with acupuncture usually involves stimulating the inner parts of a person’s ankle and shins, which traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) suggests are linked to the kidneys and bladder.

Acupuncture triggers “calmness,” “peace,” and “relief,” while simultaneously stimulating the circulatory system. The goal of this action is to release varicosity (swelling and lengthening of the veins) and remove toxic build-ups in the body. Once the pressure has been removed, urges to engage in compulsive behaviors will lessen or disappear. More specifically, getting acupuncture targeted at the kidneys and bladder can help ease pressures and restore energy to these organs – triggers of obsessive thoughts, urges, fears, and mental images, and compulsive behaviors or rituals or routines like repetitive checking, organizing, counting, cleaning, etc.

It is important to get to the root cause of the OCD symptoms, so the accompanying organs can be targeted. If by chance the trauma or “disrupted energy” (an imbalance in the body) is genetic, then more intensive acupuncture may be needed to get relief. A hormonal imbalance or inflammation may also require a more targeted acupuncture approach. In this case, long-term treatment may be required to keep the body balanced. It just depends on how the OCD manifests in the person’s body. 

According to a 2022 study, OCD sufferers may experience less anxiety, and better memory after being exposed to acupuncture. Researchers have also found that acupuncture can reduce your body’s stress hormones, which may help ease stress-related OCD symptoms. Moreover, studies suggest that acupuncture may work quicker than standard Western treatments for OCD, and as such it could be a good alternative for OCD sufferers who are trying to wean off or stop prescription medications like SSRIs.

Acupuncture works by placing tiny needles in specific target points on the body. Pricking these areas can help release “blockages” in the body (i.e., the organs), and restore the equilibrium in the body, thereby, reducing or eliminating OCD symptoms. Acupuncture lowers stress and anxiety, and calms the mind, lessening the risk of having urges to engage in compulsive behaviors.

Specific organs appear to play a role in the development of OCD.

These organs consist of the following: 

  • KidneyMost acupuncturists believe that OCD is associated with a disruption or imbalance of energy in the kidneys. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) links a person’s kidneys to their willpower. Thus, damage to the kidneys could potentially make a person overextend their will, and go beyond the body’s limitations. This could trigger or worsen OCD symptoms, especially compulsive behaviors.
  • BladderAccording to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a person’s bladder regulates their skin and muscles, allowing them to process outside stimuli. Acupuncturists also believe that a person’s bladder plays an important role in an unconscious awareness of one’s surroundings. A weak bladder can cause a person to become stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed by external stimuli. Damage to a person’s bladder can lead to a hyperactive and hypervigilant nervous system, which can trigger OCD symptoms.
  • Heart Some acupuncturists associate the heart with the release of anxiety. The heart is also linked to one’s emotions. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the heart helps people sort through information, emotions, thoughts, urges, and fears to determine if something is a credible threat. It also helps people decide what to keep and what to discard. When this ability becomes impaired or disrupted, it causes hoarding tendencies in some people. Hoarding can be a symptom of OCD.
  • Liver Acupuncturists believe improving a person’s liver function can help reduce stress and anxiety – common OCD triggers. An imbalance or disruption in the liver can cause depression. This is important because OCD is a complex condition that is sometimes linked to depressive episodes.
  • The liver is also linked to emotions, so a disruption or imbalance in this area could trigger an unrelenting fear that making a mistake (any mistake) could lead to dire consequences. It could also lead to negative emotions, such as anger, confusion, frustration, and/or a feeling of being “stuck” in life.
  • Intestines Some acupuncturists believe that the large intestine can cause dissociation, while the small intestine can cause some people to become sensitive to criticism. Paranoia and dissociation can be symptoms of OCD.
  • Spleen – Some acupuncturists believe that inconsistent or abnormal spleen functioning can cause poor digestion. This is important because many OCD sufferers tend to struggle with gastrointestinal distress, a pattern diagnosis referred to in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a “spleen qi deficiency.” Acupuncture helps OCD by strengthening a person’s metabolism while restoring their body’s equilibrium. The result? Fewer obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors.
  • LungsThe lungs are also associated with OCD symptoms. Acupuncturists believe that restoring energy to the body and alleviating OCD symptoms involves continuously touching and using the five senses – seeing, touching, hearing, tasting, and smelling. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), OCD sufferers tend to have unhealthy fixations or obsessions with people or things.

    This could also include a preoccupation with following rules, schedules, and/or lists. Perfectionism is a common trait in people who suffer from OCD. “Just Right” OCD involves being overly harsh towards oneself when mistakes are made. Thus, people who experience a disruption or have an imbalance in the lungs are likely to be excessively devoted to work, which can make them come across as “emotionally rigid” or inflexible.

What Are the Acupuncture Target Points For OCD?

The placement of the micro-needles in certain target areas of the body can stimulate the nervous system in the regions responsible for regulating emotions, leading to reduced OCD symptoms (i.e., stress and anxiety). 

According to researchers, using acupuncture on the following target points may ease OCD symptoms: 

  • Baihui (DU20)
  • Yintang (EX-HN3)
  • Taiyang (EX-HN5)
  • Neiguan (PC6)
  • Sanyinjiao (SP6)
  • Jiaji (EX-B2)

What Are The Benefits of Using Acupuncture for OCD?

There are many benefits associated with using acupuncture for OCD, such as: 

  • Fewer Side Effects

When compared to traditional Western OCD treatments, such as SSRI antidepressants, acupuncture has relatively low side effects. Acupuncture side effects are rare, however, when they do arise they tend to be mild, and short-lived. These side effects may include bruising, soreness, bleeding at the needle site, faintness, or dizziness following the treatment.

  • Fast-Working

Studies suggest that acupuncture for OCD may offer faster treatment results – with fewer side effects, than traditional Western medicine like therapy and/or medications. However, acupuncture appears to be more effective with other treatments, such as medication, psychotherapy, and natural remedies like CBD and the use of crystals

  • Less Stress

According to a 2015 study, acupuncture can reduce stress hormones (i.e., cortisol) in the body. Elevated stress hormones can increase the amount of inflammation in your brain, possibly leading to OCD symptoms. Acupuncture can actually lower elevated stress levels, so they become balanced again. Balanced stress levels can lower a person’s risk of OCD.

Who Should Not Get Acupuncture?

No treatment is good for everyone, and as such, some people should avoid using acupuncture as an OCD treatment. 

People with the following conditions should avoid acupuncture unless given the go-ahead by their doctor:

  • Pregnant women 
  • People with spinal instability
  • People who have extensive scars, keloids, or recent wounds
  • People who have sensory processing issues (i.e., people on the autism spectrum)
  • People have been diagnosed with a blood disorder
  • People who have a pacemaker
  • People who have an autoimmune condition

What Does The Research Say?

Studies suggest that acupuncture can be extremely beneficial for anxiety disorders, like OCD, particularly when it is used with other treatments, such as psychotherapy and/or medication. Researchers found that acupuncture can help lower stress and anxiety in some people – both of which can trigger or worsen OCD. According to a 2016 study, acupuncture may delay or reduce the production of stress hormones in the body, therefore, reducing or eliminating unwanted, intrusive, and repetitive obsessions and compulsions. 

Researchers also suggest that acupuncture is just as safe, and may start working faster, than traditional Western OCD treatments, like psychotherapies, and/or medications. In fact, many OCD sufferers experience noticeable results in their OCD symptoms after just a few acupuncture sessions, with results improving with each session. Acupuncture is also an effective alternative OCD treatment when more traditional OCD treatments have failed, or when medications have caused severe side effects.

Final Thoughts

Multiple studies suggest that acupuncture can help people with OCD. Acupuncturists believe that this practice can ease OCD-related stress and anxiety, help OCD sufferers become desensitized to their triggers, and reduce their symptoms. Researchers have also found that acupuncture works faster and more effectively than traditional Western treatments, like therapy and medications. So is acupuncture a good treatment option for OCD? Yes, if you can get acupuncture for your OCD symptoms and are looking for a less invasive OCD treatment, then it is worth a try!  


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DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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