Can Acupuncture Be Used To Treat COPD?

Curious about acupuncture? Here’s the rundown.

Despite the recent decline in U.S. smoking rates, more than 600 million people suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease around the world.

As respiratory illness has been with us as long as the practice of smoking, there have also been treatments addressing these diseases that have lasted millennia. Understandably, when many think of acupuncture they imagine needles sticking out of a patient’s bare skin.

However, what often goes unseen are the restorative benefits that accompany this procedure, amounting to nothing short of physical and spiritual relief.

With your health in mind, the Lung Institute has explored this ancient form of treatment, which continues to benefit those who suffer from COPD to this very day.

So, can acupuncture be used to treat COPD?

The History of the East & West

Originating in the far east of China as early as 100 BC, acupuncture has been used to treat a variety of ailments with the most common function of relieving pain.

As a method of traditional Chinese medicine, eastern acupuncture is deeply spiritual in nature, working to balance the flow of energy or life force–known as chi–thought to flow through the pathways of the body.

As acupuncture needles are introduced into specific points within these pathways, the belief is that this energy will be put back into balance.

Expanding quickly, acupuncture spread first to Korea in the 6th century AD, then Japan through medical missionaries, and finally to Europe starting with France. In contrast to eastern philosophies and practice, western acupuncture typically eschews spiritual elements in favor of secular physiology.

Whereas western acupuncture focuses on inserting needles into key spots on the body to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue, boosting the body’s natural painkillers and increasing blood flow.

In Practice

Through the insertion of extremely thin needles, acupuncture works to release chemicals and stimulate muscle relaxation at strategic points on the body. In preparation for the procedure, the skin is sterilized as the needles are inserted- frequently with a plastic tube as a guide.

The practitioner typically uses between five and twenty needles. Patients are instructed to lie still on their back or stomach for ten to twenty minutes as the needles are inserted, rearranged or manipulated.

The Science of Acupuncture and COPD

In a recent study designed to determine the effect of acupuncture on COPD, Japanese researchers examined 68 adults suffering from COPD, splitting them into two groups.

Half received acupuncture for 12 weeks, while the other half received a placebo acupuncture, where blunt needles did not actually enter the skin.

In this study no other variables were changed or introduced, and all of the participants remained on any medication they had been previously prescribed.

After the initial 12 weeks, the participants were given walking tests and monitored for any breathing trouble. Researchers found that those who had received the real acupuncture were far less breathless than those in the placebo group.

According to Masao Suzuki of Kyoto University, “acupuncture causes relaxation of these muscles and consequently the function of the muscles recovers to support better respiration.”


Although it’s known for its ability to relieve pain, acupuncture has been routinely used to treat a variety of conditions associated with discomfort:

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (an umbrella term for lung disease)
  • Chemotherapy-induced and postoperative nausea and vomiting
  • Dental pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches, including tension and migraine headaches
  • Labor pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Menstrual cramps

Despite treatment options for COPD such as acupuncture, oxygen therapy and corticosteroids that can address the diseases’ symptoms, they are unable to affect the progression of the disease itself.