A panic attack is the feeling of sudden and intense anxiety and often presents with physical symptoms such as shaking, nausea, breathlessness, sweating, and dizziness, among others. They tend not to be dangerous but can be very frightening for sufferers and can be a recurrent problem. Acupuncture may offer a low-risk treatment for those that suffer from regular panic attacks, but how effective is it? In this article, we look into Acupuncture for panic attacks and other anxiety disorders, including its benefits, how long it takes to work, and how safe it is.
So, can Acupuncture help with panic attacks? Recent studies indicate that Acupuncture may reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, as well as having a calming effect on patients. One theory is that Acupuncture impacts the nervous system’s fight or flight response - largely beneficial for sufferers of panic attacks.
Read on to learn more about the relationship between Acupuncture and panic attacks.
Does Acupuncture Help Treat Panic Attacks?
Acupuncture is a popular CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) treatment for mental health conditions such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorders like panic attacks. As the treatment is growing in popularity, more research is currently being conducted to study its effectiveness, but it is currently thought that Acupuncture may be effective in treating the symptoms of panic attacks and other anxiety disorders as well as having a calming effect on patients (1).
Benefits of Acupuncture for Panic Attacks and Anxiety
Most studies around the topic of Acupuncture and anxiety disorders are more focused around general anxiety than specific conditions such as panic attacks. However, a 2021 review found that Acupuncture can be beneficial in reducing anxiety symptoms, particularly when compared against other treatments such as medication (2).
Fight or Flight
A 2016 study on rats reported that Acupuncture was found to be effective in reducing anxiety, with researchers suggesting that Acupuncture impacts the body’s fight or flight response (3). This may be beneficial for specific anxiety disorders such as panic attacks where individuals have sudden attacks of panic or fear.
Whilst most experts agree that more research into Acupuncture for panic attacks and anxiety disorders is required, it is showing promise, and remains a relatively safe treatment option. What’s more, it’s a treatment option for those that, for whatever reason, wish to avoid medication (with the approval of their primary Doctor).
Comparison to Other Treatments
Following on from its relative safety, Acupuncture is also a viable treatment option for those that haven’t responded well to other treatment methods, as published by a 2015 study (3). Such participants, after 10 30-minute sessions of Acupuncture, experienced a significant reduction in anxiety systems, a reduction that was not experienced through more traditional treatments such as Psychotherapy and medication.
Acupuncture for Anxiety and Panic Attacks - How Does it Work?
There are a number of theories as to how Acupuncture helps panic attacks and other anxiety disorders. One such theory is that Acupuncture stimulates the release of feel-good endorphins and hormones such as serotonin (1, 4). Another theory explains that Acupuncture regulates the nervous system, suppressing the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) bringing the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) back into balance (2).
But, this doesn’t happen randomly. In order to achieve the desired results, Acupuncture needles must be inserted at specific meridians (Acupoints). Common Acupuncture points for panic attacks and other anxiety disorders can include the breastbone, the ears, between the eyebrows, or the insides of the wrists (2).
How Long Does it Take Acupuncture for Panic Attacks to Work?
A promising study from 2015 reported that patients suffering with anxiety disorders showed a significant reduction in symptoms in 10-12 weeks (3) with 10 treatment sessions over this period. However, how long it takes for Acupuncture to work largely depends on the individual in question, how severe their condition is, and their commitment to getting better.
As a rule of thumb, it is often recommended that new clients have 1-2 sessions of Acupuncture per week for 4 weeks. At this point, some clients will begin seeing results and treatments can be dropped to once per week until the condition is resolved or suitably maintained.
Learn more about how long it takes for Acupuncture to work, and how often clients should have treatment in our recent blog. We also address how safe it is to have Acupuncture every day, and how many treatments clients typically need.
Are There Any Risks Associated with Acupuncture for Panic Attacks?
Acupuncture shouldn’t make panic attacks and anxiety worse, however there are a number of general side effects and risks that both clients and practitioners should be aware of, regardless of how rare they are.
Side Effects of Acupuncture
There are very few side effects associated with Acupuncture and leading bodies state that when conducted by a qualified practitioner, they tend to be minor, short-term, and self-correcting. Such side effects may include:
- Feeling faint, dizzy or drowsy
Contraindications to Acupuncture
In most cases, Acupuncture is completely safe. However, for some groups of people, it can pose a more serious risk - these are known as contraindications and may include:
- Pregnant women
- Needling on scars, keloid, recent wounds or skin with sensory deficit
- Blood disorders or those taking anticoagulant medications
- Those with a pacemaker
- Those with uncontrollable movements and/or spinal instability
- Those that have had a stroke
- Those with cancer
- Those with epilepsy
Learn more about Acupuncture contraindications in our blog Is Acupuncture Safe? In this article we go into more depth about absolute and relative contraindications to Acupuncture as well as some special precautions to be aware of.
Whilst there isn’t much research into Acupuncture for specific anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, more general research into Acupuncture for anxiety looks to be promising, with research suggesting that Acupuncture may be effective against the symptoms of anxiety. In particular, there is research to suggest that Acupuncture may help to balance the nervous system and suppress the fight or flight response - a particular benefit for those suffering from panic attacks.
If you’re a medical professional interested in using Acupuncture to help mental health conditions such as panic attacks and other anxiety disorders, Breeze Academy offers a number of Acupuncture and Dry Needling courses across the UK, providing everything you need to confidently and competently provide Acupuncture to your patients. Take a look online or get in touch with us today for more information.
Very Well Mind - Using Acupuncture for Panic Disorder
Healthline - Can Acupuncture Help with Anxiety?
Harvard Health - Relieving Pain with Acupuncture