Burning Nights CRPS Support is a UK national charity dedicated to raising awareness of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
Acupuncture Needles on a smooth stone

Beginners Guide to Acupuncture for CRPS (RSD) & Persistent Pain


Beginners Guide to Acupuncture for CRPS (RSD) & Persistent Pain

Acupuncture has been used around the world for centuries. However how can Acupuncture help CRPS?

Burning Nights CRPS Support has been running a series of guides to alternative therapies for CRPS and persistent pain and this acupuncture blog is a part of that series. This is the Beginners Guide to Acupuncture for CRPS (RSD) & Persistent Pain.


Beginners Guide to Acupuncture For CRPS & Persistent Pain | Burning Nights CRPS Support
Beginners Guide to Acupuncture For CRPS & Persistent Pain | Burning Nights CRPS Support

Our beginners guide to acupuncture for CRPS/RSD goes into what acupuncture is, how it can help CRPS, what’s to expect from acupuncture and what happens.

Why not have a read of this blog to see if Acupuncture is something you would try for your persistent pain or CRPS.

Where Is Acupuncture from?

Acupuncture or in literal terms ‘needle puncture‘, has been used in China for literally thousands of years but has only been recorded for around 2,000 years.

In the West it has only been known to have been practiced for hundreds of years and the actual term ‘Acupuncture‘ is a European term from Nagasaki by a person called WILLEM TEN RHYNE in 1683 (According to the website ‘In Plain Site.’)

The traditional form of Acupuncture forms part of what is known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which is where the basis of the diagnosis and then treatment is that the body and also the mind should be in absolute balance.

Many doctors and scientists still believe Acupuncture to be quite a controversial form of alternative therapy for pain management as it is not certain how acupuncture works scientifically.

Oriental yin-yang symbol with acupuncture needles
Oriental yin-yang symbol with acupuncture needles



What is Acupuncture?

The traditional form of Acupuncture is where very fine, sterile needles are inserted into the person’s skin at certain and precise points on the body. These points are called ‘Acupuncture Points’ or also ‘Acupoints’ and the lines or areas they are located in are called ‘Meridians.’ The needles are also inserted at varying depths.

The size of the needle is not as big as you imagine them to be, in fact they are only the width of a human hair and some are only a long as 0.13mm in length compared to a normal injection needle.

Meridians’ are invisible lines that are supposed to carry our energy throughout the body and according to a ‘Natural Therapy Pages’ website article, there are 12 Meridian Lines.

Why not visit and watch this YouTube video‘What Is Acupuncture?’ by Dr Chad Morton

Acupuncture Alternative Therapy showing needles along the spine
Acupuncture Alternative Therapy showing needles along the spine

How does Acupuncture Work for CRPS/RSD and Chronic Pain?

It is known that any form of Acupuncture has therapeutic benefits which includes pain relief from various forms of acute and chronic pain. Many sufferers have said that the relief they felt from using acupuncture tended not to be permanent instead only lasting a few hours.

However in a study by Alejandro Katz using needles and micro-current he found that within 12 treatments the CRPS sufferers’ pain began to improve where other regular treatments had previously failed.

In another research article it was found during the study that real’ acupuncture compared to ‘sham’ acupuncture was a fairly effective treatment for CRPS sufferers. (Korpan et al.)

The thought behind acupuncture for CRPS and Chronic Pain is that it helps promote relaxation thereby letting the blood in our body flow more easily and correctly. But remember using acupuncture is for trying to treat the physical aspects of CRPS rather than trying to treat the neurological.

Acupuncture is basically stimulating our nervous system which in turn releases neurochemical molecules and if certain acupuncture points are stimulated it has been found that it can affect the certain areas of the brain that are involved in pain and stress, thereby reducing the sensitivity to stress and pain. This is important for CRPS sufferers as 1 of the symptoms associated with CRPS is hypersensitivity / allodynia. It will also help to relax you as well.


Acupuncture is available on the UK NHS for free, ask either your GP or pain management specialist and ask for a referral. However in USA as it is considered an alternative therapy many insurance companies won’t pay for it and so you would be self-funding which could work out expensive.

In Australia acupuncturists should be registered on the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd or AACMA. Please speak to your doctor or pain specialist about having acupuncture and whether there is a cost for it.

If you have private health insurance in any country around the world, please check with your insurance company whether they will pay for acupuncture before going to an appointment just in case you have to pay for the treatment.

Some of the charity’s volunteers have tried Traditional Acupuncture for CRPS. Most received the treatment during physiotherapy sessions at the local hospital. Some of our volunteers found that it helped to have a slightly more restful 4 hour sleep. But we do suggest Seeking out a trained professional outside the healthcare system and someone who only specialises in acupuncture or Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Different forms of Acupuncture & alternative therapy
Different forms of Acupuncture & alternative therapy


Different Forms of Acupuncture

There are many forms of Acupuncture and the traditional form using very fine needles is just 1 of them, there is a form of Veterinary Acupuncture. Below is just a few different forms:

  • MEDICAL ACUPUNCTURE – This is when a doctor in the Western world performs acupuncture. It is used for pain relief and pain management and electrical stimulation can be added to  the needles to simulate a nerve block.
  • TRADITIONAL CHINESE ACUPUNCTURE (TCM) – This is the most common form and it is to help balance the body.
  • AURICULAR ACUPUNCTURE – This is when only the ear is used to help treat the whole body. Again used to help control pain and pain management as well as addictions like alcohol and drugs.
  • KOREAN HAND ACUPUNCTURE – In this form of acupuncture only the hand is used to help to treat the whole body. Certain points on the hand corresponds to areas of the body.
  • JAPANESE STYLE ACUPUNCTURE – This is a little more delicate form than the TCM. Less needles are used with far less stimulation. The needles are also thinner. Japanese Acupuncture is also called Classical Acupuncture which focuses on the application of the Five Element Theory.
  • KOREAN ACUPUNCTURE – This has the similar approach that the Japanese style has, the difference being the number of needles used which is usually around 100 needles in just the 1 session.

Sourced from:- The Acupuncture Center Website; Different Kinds of Acupuncture

Other Variations of Acupuncture Technique

There are also variations on the type of Acupuncture technique that is available, these include but are certainly not limited to:

  • Chinese Scalp Acupuncture – The fundamentals of scalp acupuncture therapy were reviewed by Lu Shoukang, of the Beijing College of Acupuncture, Moxibustion, Orthopedics, and Traumatology.  According to the review, the technique is predominantly a small-needle therapy in which shu points in the scalp are treatedShu points refer to “stream” points where the qi of the internal organs is infused.  In the system of body acupuncture, there are 5 shu points (one for each element) on each of the 12 meridians (below the elbow or below the knee) plus the back shu points, which are each located in the vicinity of one of the internal organs. 
  • According to the theory of channels and collaterals, shu points in the head can be used to treat diseases of the whole body. Scalp acupuncture is one of several specialised acupuncture techniques with a specific body location, taking its place alongside ear, nose, hand, foot, and wrist/ankle acupuncture. Although the scalp has numerous traditionally-identified acupuncture points along several of the major meridians (notably the stomach, bladder, gallbladder, triple burner, and governing vessel), modern scalp acupuncture differs from traditional acupuncture therapy.  There are three basic features of scalp acupuncture that differentiate it from body acupuncture:

    1.      Treatment zones have been mapped onto the scalp that are associated with body functions and broad body regions. The zones include a few standard acupuncture points, but the treatment principle for point selection is usually not based on the traditional indication for the point or associated meridian.  In general, within a defined zone, the forward part of the zone (nearer the face) is used to treat the upper body, while the rear portion of the zone is used to treat the lower body.  Functional zones, such as sensory, memory, and motor, are usually located at the back and sides of the scalp.

    2.      In scalp acupuncture, the needles are to be inserted within a thin layer of loose tissue beneath the scalp surface, at a low angle of about 15–30 degrees, involving an insertion distance of about 1 cun [the cun is a variable unit of measure based on body size; about one inch for an adult]. Standard acupuncture of scalp points normally involves subcutaneous insertion up to a depth 1/2 cun or less (about 0.3–0.5 inches for an adult) at a high angle of 60–90 degrees.

    3.      For scalp acupuncture, the needles are to be subjected to rapid stimulation, which may be carried out in a variety of ways, including pulling/thrusting, twirling, and electro-stimulation.  Standard acupuncture applied to scalp points usually involves less rapid stimulation or moxibustion as the main stimulation technique. When using manual manipulation in modern scalp acupuncture, it is common to stimulate the needles for 2–3 minutes at a time, with a rest period of 5–10 minutes between stimulations.

(Dharmananda, S. December 2000)

  • Laser Acupuncture – This is where a laser is used instead of the very fine needles along the Meridians
Laser Acupuncture
Laser Acupuncture
  • Electro-acupuncture – Again going along the Meridians but this time using an electric current
Electro-Acupuncture on the face
Electro-Acupuncture on the face
  • Acupressure – Blunt or a dull pressure is applied along the same Meridians but there is no puncture of the skin
  • Moxibustion – In this style of acupuncture, there are different materials burnt on the skin along the Meridians. Heat is applied to the Meridian using the Moxi which is a therapeutic herb, then heat lamps could be used to relax muscles
Moxibustion being done during an acupuncture treatment. Moxi is a herb usually in stick form which can be burned over acupuncture points to create heat in the area.
Moxibustion being done during an acupuncture treatment. Moxi is a herb usually in stick form which can be burned over acupuncture points to create heat in the area.


There are also other techniques such as Cupping where small glass cups with a seal are put on your skin stimulating the body’s blood flow. Tui Na (or tuina) which a form of massage to relieve any tension in your muscles. It also stimulates the acupressure points or even Gua Sha which isn’t recommended for CRPS or chronic pain patients as it involves actual scraping of your skin to produce a light bruising.

Fire cupping cups on the back
Fire cupping cups on the back


What happens during a session of acupuncture?

Before the Acupuncture session

Before going for your acupuncture session there are somethings you need to remember:

  1. Let your acupuncturist know if you have never tried acupuncture before, this will give the person scheduling your appointment to allow for extra session time for explanations of what happens
  2. Schedule your appointment sensibly & don’t have the session either before or after a strenuous activity
  3. Don’t go to the session without eating or straight after a heavy, spicy or fried meal
  4. Don’t drink alcohol or coffee before your session
  5. Wear comfortable, easy clothes as the most common acupuncture points are on the legs and lower arms
  6. Make a list of your current medication including any natural remedies
  7. Make a list of any important medical incidents in your life e.g. serious injuries, medical problems current & past Also list any significant family medical problems
  8. Don’t be on the last minute getting to your appointment it will make you more stressed, tense and anxious
  9. When you get to your appointment turn OFF your mobile phone (cell phone), don’t just leave it on vibrate!
  10. Try to get to your appointment approximately 5-10 minutes before your session giving your time to relax
Acupuncture cartoon image

During the Acupuncture session

The 1st session will tend to last around 1 hour, after this they will be approximately 30-50 minutes but it will depend on who you go to see.

  • During the 1st session you will be asked a number of questions relating to your current health, lifestyle, sleep pattern, medication especially blood thinners and important medical incidents that have happened in your life
  • The acupuncturist will take your pulse using both your wrists, they may examine your tongue and feel for muscular tension or areas of pain
  • You will also be asked a number of questions about your current complaint, ask you to describe what the various symptoms feel like, how long it has been going on, frequency and the severity
  • You should also tell your acupuncturist if you have tried any other alternative therapies and whether they have worked or not
  • The acupuncturist will give you a diagnosis and treatment plan after he has collated all your answers to the various questions they have asked
  • You will be asked to lie down on a bed either face up, face down or on your side, this all depends on where the needles are going to be inserted
  • If you are having the Traditional form of Acupuncture the acupuncturist will be using very fine pre-sterilised needles that are only for one use then are thrown away
  • The needles are placed in specific acupuncture points on your body which may not necessarily be near to where your pain is
  • Needling techniques of acupuncturists can vary slightly however most are quite gentle and some people feel very little as each one is introduced into the skin. You could feel a slight pinch which does go after a couple of moments. But each person feels things differently at varying degrees of sensitivity. Please tell your acupuncturist immediately if anything does hurt you or you can’t take the needle in a certain place
  • You should be able to feel a deep aching feeling when the needle is at the right depth
  • The needles will usually remain in place for approximately 20-40 minutes and you should feel comfortable during this time

After your Acupuncture session

  • The acupuncturist will most probably give you some ways to help improve the effects long term of your treatment, which could include dietary alterations, changes to your daily routine
  • They could also ask to refer you to other specialists or healthcare professionals depending on your particular problem
  • After your treatment as acupuncture is considered relaxing you could feel calm, sleepy or tired
  • You may not get any relief straightaway after treatment it could be a few hours later instead
  • Your relief if you have any depends on the severity of your problem/s
  • If you get some relief post treatment, it may last a few hours and possibly longer after each treatment
  • If you are going to exercise please do only light exercise not vigorous
  • Try and give your body time to rest following acupuncture treatment, you don’t need to go and lie down to sleep but having a short nap after acupuncture treatment will give you body the time it needs to rest
  • If you can don’t drink alcohol for a few hours after the treatment
  • Use a heat pack if you feel it helps give you more or better relief
  • Avoid eating any sugar or processed foods after treatment as it will put back toxins into your body after the acupuncture has taken them out

Are there any side effects?

Generally acupuncture doesn’t have many side effects, but if you do have any then they tend to be mild. Side effects can include:

  • Sleepiness & feeling very tired, please take care when driving or using heavy machinery
  • Slight nausea
  • Light-headedness which could on rare occasions cause fainting
  • Muscle ache
  • Soreness where the needles were put in (Traditional form of Acupuncture)
  • Temporary slight bruising (this is especially concerning Cupping and Gua Sha), this bruising tends to be painless and clears after a couple of days
  • Feelings of being extra emotional e.g. crying, extra sensitive

On some rare occasions your current CRPS symptoms including chronic pain could get worse following any treatment such as a pain flare up. Hopefully this will last for an hour or two and then give you relief. If you feel your pain flare is lasting longer than a couple of hours, then you need to contact your acupuncturist and get advice from them.

As you can read in this CRPS blog, the beginners guide to acupuncture for CRPS & persistent pain, there’s a lot of good information on all aspects of trying this form of Alternative Therapy; Acupuncture for CRPS and persistent pain.

Have you tried acupuncture to help you with your complex regional pain syndrome as a treatment option? If so please let us know how you thought the acupuncture helped or didn’t help your CRPS or chronic pain. Have you enjoyed our beginners guide to acupuncture for CRPS & persistent pain? Why not check out our other guides to alternative therapies or our great infographic about complementary and alternative therapies?

Check out some of our other CRPS blog articles

We have a number of other CRPS blog articles that you may want to read:

Please remember we are not doctors or medically trained. Please always seek medical advice prior to starting anything new.

Cited Research


Acupuncture and the other types of alternative therapies are not meant to replace your typical pain management treatments, they are used in addition to. Always speak to your healthcare specialists before trying any other treatments in case there are any contradictions.  

Last Updated: 25/01/2019

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About the Author
As the Founder of Burning Nights CRPS Support, I want to help all those affected by this devastating condition which includes those living with CRPS, their relatives, partners, carers and friends. I'm also barrister, advocate & have lived with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) since 2003. I am also a bilateral (double) above knee amputee due to aggressive symptoms of CRPS. Please help spread awareness of this debilitating and life-changing condition - CRPS. We need your support!
  1. Janet Collins

    Can you provide a referral for acupuncture in Denver Colorado to treat CRPS ?

    • Victoria Abbott-Fleming

      Hi Janet
      As we are based in the UK getting a referral for acupuncture in the USA is difficult for us. However have you contacted RSDSA who are an American organisation dedicated to CRPS? There is a service in USA called Acufinder where you are able to search for your state that then gives you a list of registered acupuncturists in your state. But we couldn’t say how accurate or good they were. If you’d like we can send your details to the RSDSA for them to contact you or you can contact them yourself if you’d prefer? Their email is: info@rsds.org
      Please let us know if you would prefer to send your details to the RSDSA on your behalf.
      Best Wishes
      Victoria and team

    • Leah

      My chiropractor, Dr. Robert Bridge (Horizon Chiropractic) is fantastic. I’ve been a patient of his sine 2004 and he’s knowledgeable about CRPS. I’ve had CRPS for two years and he’s adjusted me since I was diagnosed without aggravating the condition. I’ve used him for acupuncture before I was affected, and am planning to try it for the CRPS.

  2. Stargazer

    Hi there,
    I just wanted to say acupuncture got my 14 year old daughter better when nothing else had worked..we had done the rounds of all the NHS had to offer. Including very invasive, harrowing treatments.
    I have recently come across a type of acupuncture treatment called auriculotherapy. It is amazing because only the ears are needled. The national expert is in Scotland. I feel it is important to share this information..I only wish we had tried acupuncture much earlier after my daughter’s diagnosis it would have saved her so much suffering. Good luck to everyone out there with this most awful of conditions.

    • Hi Stargazer,
      Thank you for your comments about Acupuncture and your daughter. I’m so pleased that you managed to find a treatment to help your daughter. Thank you for the interesting information about auriculotherapy which we will be researching and probably adding to the list in this blog.
      We have a closed Facebook group just for parents who have children with CRPS if you were interested in joining. This is the direct link on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/parentswithCRPSchildren

      Once again many thanks for the information and I’m pleased for you and your daughter about the treatment.
      Best Wishes, Victoria

  3. Janay

    Just a observation…the acupuncturist was assumed to be a “HE”. Thanks for info too

  4. Jim Broatch

    here is another reference, rsds.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/chinese-scalp-acupuncture.pdf

  5. Karie

    After being diagnosed with CRPS/RSD 4 years ago and dealing with many ways to curb the pain like nerve blocks which didn’t work, I tried Acupuncture. I was fortunate to go to someone who had dealt with this disease and had successfully treated them. It worked for me after (7) 1 hr sessions and I am forever grateful that Acupuncture saved my life. I wish more people who are being diagnosed would try this option because it was incredible. I felt the pain flow right out of my foot, like an energy that needed to escape. Makes me wonder if that is why it moves to other parts of the body, like it’s trying to find a way out. I hope my story will give hope.

    • Joan Soroka

      I have been suffering from RSD -CRPS after having fractured my right wrist. I feel like amputating my whole arm and hand. It just is so painful.Am currently taking Gabapentin but it is not so helpful. I would like to try acupuncture and live in New Jersey. Any recommendations of a skilled acupunturist in this state? I would even go to new york city Also Any bad side effects to acupunture?

  6. Tammie

    I am so glad to see others speaking out and finding blogs about CRPS! I have been suffering since 2012 with this horrible affliction and have finally been diagnosed.
    I want to first say thank you for sharing this information. I haven’t suffered the extent of amputation, as you have, but suffer every day with shutting-down pain as I call it and depression. I can’t even hold a desk job for more than two hours because of the shocking pains that run from my neck into my arms. I have developed diverticulitis because of the constant use of narcotic medicines and only one of my doctors has opened doors to alternative therapies. I think the more Information available to the patients to bring to their doctor’s appts will help change the way CRPS is treated.

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