Acupuncture treatment for Interstitial Cystitis – any evidence?

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After my last blog post I received numerous emails from numerous health care practitioners asking on the scientific evidence regarding acupuncture treatment of interstitial cystitis.

Before I present this information, keep in mind that not everything that works can be proven – especially therapies that are 5000 years old.  The importance of scientific investigation in all forms of medicine cannot be understated – we have made huge advances in medicine through science. However, for a practitioner to just depend on scientific data while working in the “trenches” trying improve our patients health is short sighted.

In the words of arguably the best scientist to ever live, ” Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.”  – Albert Einstein

A good doctor incorperates 3 things in their approach: science, clinical experience and the therapeutic relationship with the patient.

OK, I am jumping out of my soap box now.

Here’s the existing scientific data on acupuncture and interstitial cystitis (and associated conditions)

( I have taken this from other of my writings on the topic)


Patients with IC/PBS can potentially gain benefit from 10 to 20 sessions of acupuncture (Whitmore, 2002).  Alraek has been able to show in a study with 61 women that traditional Chinese medical (TCM) diagnosis can be useful in cystitis (Alraek et al. 2000).

In a study of 14 patients, Rapkin and Kames found that 6 to 8 weeks of acupuncture reduced the pain of IC (Rapkin and Kames, 1987).

One reported a case study of a 31-year-old woman whose IC symptoms were reduced with acupuncture to the kidney and bladder meridians (Lyons, 2001).

One Norwegian study of 67 adult women with a history of recurrent lower UTI were randomized into three groups in which one received acupuncture treatment, one had sham acupuncture, and one was given no treatment. A statistically significant 85% in the acupuncture group was free of cystitis during the 6-month observational period, as compared with 58% in the sham group and only 36% in the control group (Aune et al. 1998).

As you can see, the scientific data regarding acupuncture treatment for interstitial cystitis is limited at this time. Good randomized trials with the use of acupuncture are desperately needed for this patient population.

Keep posted as we are developing such studies at our institution at NYU.



Whitmore KE. Complementary and alternative therapies as treatment alternatives for interstitial cystitis. Rev Urol. 2002;4(suppl 1):S28–S35.

Alraek T, Aune A, Baerheim A (2000) Traditional Chinese medicine syndromes in women with frequently recurring cystitis: frequencies of syndromes and symptoms. Complement Ther Med 8:260-265

Rapkin AJ, Kames LD. The pain management approach to chronic pelvic pain. J Reprod Med. 1987;32:323–3271.

Lyons P. Acupuncture treatment for interstitial cystitis: a case report. Am AcadMed Acupunct. 2001. Published 2001. Accessed November 1, 2007.

Aune A, Alraek T, LiHua H. Acupuncture in the prophylaxis of recurrent lower urinary tract infection in adult women. Scand J Prim Health Care 1998;16:37-39.

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by Dr. Geo

13 comments… add one
  • Natalie Christensen 02/12/2012, 7:01 PM

    I am a 45 year old woman with IC. I am currently taking acupuncture and chinese herbs for my symptoms which were primarily urethral pian and urgency. My first flare was in 2010 and i went into remission for almost two years. I had my next flare in Dec 2011. I believe it was a combination of hormonal fluctuations and severe work stress that brought on my recurrance. I tried everything that is typically recommended to calm a flare with no relief. I was in terrible pain, but scared to address the problem in the way western medicine typically does. I started acupuncture on Jan20 2012 and my symptoms were gone the next day. I have been symptom free for 23 days. I am able to eat “trigger foods” without a problem. I take my herbs religiously and although i dislike the feeling of acupuncture i wont miss an appointment. I have a sense of well-being and calm that is different than anything i have felt before. I am so grateful i stumbled upon my acupuncturist. His name is Jeffrey Russell at Bluegrass Chinese Medicine in Louisville KY. He has a full pharmacy so he can custom blend herbs for his patients. It may not be the answer for everyone, but patients need to know about this as an alternative to the invasive therapies that often don’ t work.
    Thank you.

    • Dr. Geo 02/12/2012, 10:58 PM

      Hi Natalie,

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, I have seen Chinese Medicine (acupunture and herbs) to be extraordinarily helpful.

      I hope you continue to do well.


    • David Henderson 08/23/2012, 10:18 AM

      Thanks for your insite. It would be helpful to know the herbs you are using.

      • Dr. Geo 08/24/2012, 3:17 PM

        Hi David, for IC I use TCM herbs Plantago seed (cheqianzi), Dianthus (qumai), Polygonum (bianxu), Pyrrosia (shiwei), Abutilon (dongkuizi)
        Rhubarb (dahuang), Licorice (gancao) , Juncus (dengxincao), Pteropus (weilingzhi), Typha (puhuang)and
        Corydalis (yanhusuo).

        Clearly, I would personalize the treatments and modify this formula.

        Good luck.

    • Tracy 06/08/2014, 12:24 AM

      Hi Natalie,

      I am similar I was diagnosed in 2010 and have had four operations for bladder distension in four years. I have to say that the second and third gave me relief for around one year. The first one I was still in pain throughout the year and the fourth one I believe stopped me going to the toilet 56 times a day but I am still in pain and I have just decided to see a Dr in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. I have only had three sachets of herbs over three days and two acupuncture so far I was feeling okay but today and not happy as is annoying me again. Hoping to get relief soon from this treatment. Nothing to loose. I hope it works for good soon.


  • Lauren 02/16/2012, 2:36 AM

    I have been attending acupuncture sessions for around 5 months, first on a weekly basis and now monthly. The treatment is working brilliantly and my acupuncturist tells me I’ll be ‘cured’ in no time. I’m not sure whether this is the case or if I will simply go into remission for a long period of time, but so far I’ve had no pain. I’m extremely happy with how well the acupuncture is working and I’m confident it will continue to improve my IC. Like Natalie said, it may not be for everyone but it’s definitely worked for me. And anything’s worth a try, right?

  • Elizabeth Anderson 12/14/2012, 3:27 PM

    I would like to know an accupuncturist in the Woburn area of Massachusetts who will be able to help me with Interstitial Cystitis.

    • Dr. Geo 01/04/2013, 8:50 AM

      Hi Elizabeth, please go to and you will find an acupuncturist near you. They may not be experts in IC however but that is OK. Often times acupunture from a “non-IC expert” can still be helpful.

      Best to you. GE

  • Jane Melling 02/05/2014, 3:54 AM

    I am a 3rd year acupuncture student at University of East London in the UK.
    I am currently research for my final year dissertation on Interstitial cystitis.

    I have found 2 clinical trials (done by Terie Alraek et al) and 2 questionnaire survey (one by
    Toni Tucker and the other one by Terie Alraek et al). I have also found there a few trials with TCM herb.

    However, I need a few more clinical trial papers on acupuncture and interstitial cystitis.
    Would you kindly let me know if you know any trial reports done and main references you think they are the ‘MUST’?

    I am also looking for Rapkin AJ, Kames LD. The pain management approach to chronic pelvic pain. J Reprod Med. 1987. I am unable to have access to it. If you have the paper, please email it to me.

    I am looking forward to hearing from you.
    Thank you very much.

    Kind regards,
    Jane Melling

    • Dr. Geo 03/09/2014, 8:03 PM

      Hi Jane, Sorry for the late reply to this request. Please email me again to my email the papers or information you need and I’d be happy to help. All the best. Dr. Geo

  • Maggie Konner 05/03/2014, 9:37 PM

    Dr. Geo,
    Do you know an acupuncturist in New Jersey that has experience with IC?

    • Dr. Geo 05/13/2014, 9:36 PM

      Hi Maggie, I don’t know one that specialized in pelvic dysfunction and IC, but many acupuncturist would know what to do with just practicing TCM principles. To find an acupuncturist near you go to Good luck.

  • Samantha Kendrick 02/05/2015, 5:08 AM

    I was hit with horrible lower abdominal pain in 2013. It got worse and worse. I saw many doctors that couldn’t find anything and wouldn’t take me seriously. This went on for over a year. Finally I went back to my hometown to see my family doctor. He took one look at me and ordered a ct scan with fluid. It showed a mass and my spleen was swollen. He then referred me to an obgyn. Who in turn set me up for surgery. All of this happened in two months. I had the surgery and was diagnosed with endometriosis. He removed what he could see and said he was going to check my bladder. Turns out he didn’t. He referred me to another obgyn that specializes in interstitial cystitis. He set me up for another surgery. He put in an iud for my endometriosis and did a bladder instillation. It has been two months since my surgery. I take elmiron every day as well as an estrogen spray. As well as doing an acupuncture therapy session every Monday and Thursday. I am coming up on my 15th session. It has helped me tremendously! I still get quite a few spasms but the pain has been becoming more bearable. I can at least make it through an entire movie with only going to the restroom once. I still cannot stand up for more than ten minutes but I’m not sure if that’s my bladder or my endo or my muscle deterioration. But all in all I’m starting to feel better and that is a huge help! I can make it up a flight of stairs without dying inside. I would recommend acupuncture for ic!!!


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