Helping Bladder Control and Leakage with Acupuncture

A powerful type of acupuncture is proven effective for the treatment of urinary incontinence. In a Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine clinical trial, standard acupuncture stimulation demonstrated a 54% total effective rate, however; a specialized electroacupuncture treatment protocol yielded an 86% total effective rate. We’ll take a look how these remarkable results were achieved.

Urinary incontinence (enuresis) is defined as the involuntary leakage of urine. Due to loss of bladder control, urine may leak during coughing, sneezing, laughing, heavy lifting, or other activities. The condition may also present in the form of urgent urination wherein one may not have enough time to get to the restroom. Urinary incontinence may take on a more insidious nature wherein there may be frequent, often imperceptible, dribbling of urine. In all presentations of the disorder, there is a loss of bladder control.

The discovery that acupuncture can safety and effectively treat this condition is significant. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “incontinence presents a significant financial burden to the individual and to society. In the United States, the cost of bladder incontinence among adults in 2000 was estimated at $19.5 billion, with $14.2 billion incurred by community residents and $5.3 billion by institutional residents (Hu et al.).” Based on these figures, acupuncture is an important and cost-effective treatment option.

Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine researchers examined the effects of both manual and electroacupuncture on women with urinary incontinence in their acupuncture continuing education study. A total of 100 patients participated in the clinical trial at the university’s 2nd affiliated hospital. Manual acupuncture treatment was identical for both groups A and B. The only difference in treatment protocols was that group B received electroacupuncture in addition to the manual acupuncture therapy.

Treatment commenced with patients in a supine position. Upon disinfection, a 2 inch filiform acupuncture needle was inserted into each acupoint. For Guanyuan, Qihai, Zhongji, and Qugu, needles were slanted downwards and inserted transverse-obliquely to a depth of 1.2 – 1.5 inches until a deqi sensation was elicited. Next, rotating and reinforcing needle manipulation techniques were applied. For Zusanli and Sanyinjiao, needle were inserted vertically to a 0.5 – 1-inch depth. Subsequently, a needle retention time of 40 minutes was observed for all acupoints. One 40 minute acupuncture session was conducted daily for 30 consecutive days.

For the electroacupuncture group, intermediate frequency electrical acupoint stimulation was conducted simultaneously. An intermediate frequency electrical stimulation device was connected to Zhongji and Huiyin (CV1). The amplitude for each patient was set to individual tolerance levels for comfort. This electrical stimulation was administered for 20 minutes during each acupuncture session.

Huiyin (CV1, Meeting of Yin) is often underutilized in clinical practice due to its location. The modern research confirms traditional indications for use of this acupuncture point. Huiyin is traditionally indicated for the treatment of difficult urination and urinary incontinence. The research finds the addition of electroacupuncture from CV3 to CV1 increases the efficaciousness by 32%. Manual acupuncture had a 54% total effective rate and electroacupuncture increased the rate to 86%.

University College of London Hospital and Whipps Cross University Hospital researchers confirm that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of urinary incontinence in independent research. A total of 79% of patients participating in the clinical trial demonstrated clinically significant outcomes. The researchers add that acupuncture “should be considered as a potential alternative to our current therapeutic regimes” for patients with urinary incontinence. The study utilized only 3 acupuncture points, combined with electroacupuncture, for all patients:

SP6 (Sanyinjiao)

CV4 (Guanyuan)

KD3 (Taixi)

Similar results were found across the two aforementioned studies. The first investigation had an 86% total effective rate and the second had a 79% total effective rate. Jin et al. confirm that electroacupuncture reduces urinary incontinence for women in another independent study. Electroacupuncture produced a 78.6% total effective rate. The protocol reduced leakage and urgency. The mean occurrence of urinary incontinence over 24 hours was reduced by 66.67%. The mean quantity of urinary leakage over 24 hours was 39 grams before acupuncture treatments and 18.6 grams afterwards.

Electroacupuncture was attached to BL32 and BL35. A disperse-dense wave was used for 30 minutes. The dense wave was 4 Hz and the disperse wave was set to 20 Hz. The intensity was set to patient tolerance levels. One 30 minute acupuncture treatment was administered 3 times per week for 8 weeks. The protocol achieved a 78.6% total effective rate.

Liu et al. achieved a 93.3% total effective rate for the treatment of stress urinary incontinence in women. The protocol had two components: acupuncture and pelvic floor muscle exercises. Acupuncture with moxibustion was applied to the Baliao acupuncture points:

Shangliao (BL31)

Ciliao (BL32)

Zhongliao (BL33)

Xialiao (BL34)

Needling was applied obliquely with a needle retention time of 20 minutes per acupuncture treatment. Moxibustion was applied to all needles. Acupuncture was administered 5 times per week for 6 weeks. The 93.3% total effective rate suggests that this protocol produces optimal outcomes.

Wang et al. confirm that acupuncture is 90% effective for the treatment of urinary incontinence. In the clinical trial, acupuncture was compared with drug therapy. Solifenacin produced an 86.9% total effective rate. Guiyang College of Traditional Chinese Medicine researchers from the university hospital’s urology department conducted a clinical trial lasting four weeks. Patients taking drug therapy received 4 mg of solifenacin via oral administration, once daily after breakfast.

Manual acupuncture stimulation was applied to the needles. Each acupuncture session lasted 30 minutes and one minute of manual stimulation was applied every 10 minutes. Acupuncture was applied once per day for four weeks.

Solifenacin had an outcome of 4 patients cured, 23 patients with significant progress, and 4 patients with no progress. Acupuncture had an outcome of 5 patients cured, 22 with significant progress, and 3 patients with no progress. The total effective rate for the acupuncture group was 90% and 86.9% for the solifenacin group. The results confirm that of the aforementioned studies; acupuncture is effective for the treatment of urinary incontinence.

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Jin CL, Zhou XY & Pang R. (2013). Effect of electro-acupuncture on mixed urinary incontinence in women. Journal of Clinical Acupuncture and Moxibustion. 29(6).
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Wang, Bo, Youping Xiao, Kai Fan, Congjun Huang. “Treatment of female overactive bladder with acupuncture.” Journal of Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine 36.10 (2013): 713-716.