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Can Chinese Medicine Provide an Answer for Long COVID?

covid and acupuncture
acupuncture helps long covid

It’s been over three years since COVID-19 upended our world. The dark uncertainty of those earliest days led to shortages, lockdowns, and countless changes to the flow of daily life. Most of the adjustments that helped us cope with the pandemic proved temporary, while a few will stay with us forever, but overall, the introduction of effective vaccines has meant that life as we knew it has returned. But for those who caught the virus and were struck by the chronic condition known as long COVID, the return to normalcy never came.   Now research is revealing that acupuncture and other Chinese Medicine treatments may provide relief from long COVID symptoms.

What is Long COVID?

According to the Mayo Clinic, long COVID, or post-COVID-19 syndrome, is a combination of ongoing health problems following infection with the SARS-COV-2 virus. Different people experience long COVID in different ways, but in all cases it is a manifestation of symptoms that continue more than four weeks after having the virus, and in some cases lasting for years and leading to significant disability. According to a survey conducted by the Census Bureau and published by the Centers for Disease Control, long COVID has impacted approximately 11% of U.S. adults.

Common symptoms of post-COVID-19 syndrome include fatigue, fever, and breathing symptoms including difficulty in catching one’s breath, shortness of breath, or chronic coughing. Others report neurological symptoms including migraine headaches or brain fog, loss of smell or taste; joint and muscle pain; rapid heartbeat; digestive symptoms; and changes in the menstrual cycle.

Modern medicine attributes these symptoms to several possible causes, including underlying organ damage caused by the virus, inflammation, and post-traumatic stress disorder following a severe and frightening bout with the disease. Whatever its cause, long COVID has proven extremely difficult to treat and has proven life-changing for many of its victims.

Acupuncture and Long COVID

Traditional Chinese Medicine has long used acupuncture to resolve Qi deficiencies, stagnation, and imbalances which can lead to a variety of conditions including fatigue, inflammation, migraines, anxiety, and digestive disorders, among others. By treating the root of the Qi imbalance, acupuncture has been proven effective at restoring health, improving mood, and diminishing pain.

The lack of a specific, effective medical treatment for long COVID has led to significant frustration and despair for those who suffer from its debilitating symptoms, and many have turned to acupuncture despite a lack of clinical data to support its use. That data is just beginning to be collected, and it is proving encouraging.

Anecdotal and Clinical Data Support the Use of Acupuncture for Long COVID

Though U.S. clinicians are just beginning to explore acupuncture’s impact on long COVID, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been an obvious choice in China, where the pandemic first arose and where its restoration of normal flow of qi, blood, and body fluids is widely accepted. A study on the use of acupuncture for long COVID in China concluded, “Acupuncture may be particularly well suited for outpatient care in managing Long COVID, pending appropriate research studies to substantiate its therapeutic values. Medical acupuncture can shorten posthospitalization recovery time, improve symptoms, and influence many of the causes of Long COVID, including modulating inflammation, restoring healthy nitric oxide production, adjusting redox imbalance, and regulating blood pressure to help positively influence disease outcome.”  

An ongoing clinical study in the United Kingdom is documenting the outcomes of patients suffering from long COVID. They have been provided 15-minute acupuncture sessions on a weekly basis, for a period of six weeks, and though the study will not report full results until 2025, researchers have indicated that participants are experiencing positive responses including greater energy and resolution of muscle fatigue. Acupuncture practitioners who are interviewing patients have indicated that three out of four report improvements in mood and overall health and a diminishing of their symptoms.

One study conducted by researchers at Connor Whole Health at the University Hospitals of Cleveland Medical Center assessed the impact of a multidisciplinary approach on a 50-year-old female patient complaining of 8 months of fatigue, palpitations, chest pressure, and other symptoms. Her treatment included acupuncture with physical therapy. It resulted in the chest pressure and palpitations resolving after a single acupuncture treatment, and complete resolution of all symptoms with six additional treatments over a nine-week period.

Customized Herbal Prescriptions Can Also Help Long COVID Symptoms

Many practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine have reported success in treating specific symptoms of long COVID with custom treatment plans that combine acupuncture with customized herbal prescriptions, cupping, gua sha, and more. The use of these varying routes to wellness begins with the initial meeting with the acupuncturist, which assesses individual symptoms and leads to both therapies and the creation of decoctions of herbs formulated to address specific needs.

Gauging the impact of the treatments may seem subjective, but can be done by noting improvements in energy, function, or reductions in the need for other types of interventions. The best way to determine whether acupuncture can help you manage and resolve your long COVID symptoms begins with a meeting with  Sharon Sherman. She has been licensed to practice acupuncture and Oriental Medicine since 2001 and holds the highest credential available from both the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Her knowledge and understanding of complex conditions in conjunction with the medicine’s effectiveness assures patients of the highest level of care and professionalism.

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