Do Acupuncture and Acupressure Relieve RLS Symptoms?
Last updated: July 2023
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture uses tiny needles to stimulate nerves and blood flow. An acupuncturist inserts the needles into precise points in the skin. Five to 20 needles are inserted for up to 15 minutes. The number of times the treatment needs to be repeated varies.2
How acupuncture works is not well understood. It may activate your nervous system. It may also activate your muscles, circulation, or tissue. This activation may relieve pain.3
Can acupuncture help with RLS?
Acupuncture is mentioned by the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation as a way to manage RLS. Analyzing data from 18 studies showed that acupuncture is effective for RLS. A 2018 study showed that acupuncture treatments on the legs of 2 people with RLS eased symptoms. It also helped them sleep.5-7
Acupuncture may have an additive effect. Forty-six people with RLS were either treated with gabapentin or gabapentin plus acupuncture. Symptoms and sleep quality were assessed. Both treatments eased symptoms. Yet, acupuncture with gabapentin was more effective at managing RLS compared to using drugs alone.8
Acupuncture and other conditions
Acupuncture is also used for:2,3
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stress relief
The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reported data from 6,376 people with painful health conditions. Participants said that acupuncture helped manage their pain. For most pain, the benefits of acupuncture lasted for up to a year after treatment stopped.3
It is possible that pain relief comes from the placebo effect. This means that the treatment works because you think it will.3
What is acupressure?
Acupressure is like acupuncture but without needles. Pressure is applied to points on the body using the fingertips. A trained professional can do it. You can also do it yourself. Acupressure mats and wrist bands can also be used.3,9,10
Can acupressure help with RLS?
Not much research has been done on acupressure and RLS. One 2022 study showed that for those with RLS on dialysis, acupressure eased symptoms. More work needs to be done to understand the effects of acupressure on RLS.4
Acupressure and other conditions
Acupressure has also been used for:11
- Sleeping problems
- Gastrointestinal (digestive) diseases
- Stress relief
A 2019 study showed that acupressure lowered self-reported anxiety and pain in nurses, people in the hospital, and the public. It helped hospitalized people the most. Another study showed that using an acupressure mat along with physical therapy lessened lower back pain. It also improved quality of life.11,12
The National Cancer Institute reports that acupressure helps cancer patients manage fatigue and nausea. Like acupuncture, these effects could be from the placebo effect. More studies are needed to decide if acupressure is effective. This is especially true for RLS.10
Are there side effects?
For acupuncture, you may have discomfort, bleeding, or bruising from the needles. For acupressure, you may feel tenderness when pressure is applied.2,9
How can I find a practitioner?
Many states make acupuncturists pass a test from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. The commission's website provides a list of practitioners.2
The American Massage Therapy Association can help you find a practitioner with acupressure training. You can also do acupressure on yourself. Resources are available online.10
About these studies
More work is needed to properly show how acupuncture and acupressure affect RLS. Some of the studies mentioned had flaws in how they were designed. This means we cannot draw strong conclusions from them. Yet, both treatments have minor side effects and may give relief. Talk to your doctor before starting these treatments.9
What do you wish for the most when it comes to RLS awareness?