The evidence for acupuncture as a treatment method for erectile dysfunction (ED) is fairly inconclusive thus far, and more research is needed to explore its utility in the management of ED.
But if you’re considering acupuncture, you may be wondering where the practitioners actually put the needles. Just where the needles go is partly a matter of tradition, and partly a matter of your individual practitioner’s experience. Not in your genitals, you’ll be relieved to know.
Here we explain the general principles of acupuncture and discuss the early research that has been piloted.
The theory of ‘meridians’
In Chinese medicine there are about 360 generally agreed-upon ‘acupoints’ for treating different conditions. The exact number varies according to different philosophies. These acupoints connect into 12 ‘meridians’, named for the organ systems with which they’re thought to be primarily associated. For example, there’s a lung meridian, a spleen meridian, and a heart meridian, to name three of them.
Choosing the acupoints
The exact size and location of each point is still controversial among practitioners. These issues are being explored clinically now, with Western investigational techniques, in hopes of resolving them.
There is also variation in how practitioners select which treatment points to use. General principles do exist, but knowing where to place each needle (or sometimes little groups of needles) is something traditionally passed down from experienced practitioners, rather like an art form. There are now efforts underway to consolidate this knowledge into a standard treatment pathway like most clinicians are used to in the West.
The acupoints for erectile dysfunction
When you think of acupuncture treatment for ED specifically, you might imagine needles in the genitals. Thankfully this is not the case. In the early research that has been conducted thus far, acupuncture is actually not used locally (i.e. the genitalia) to treat ED. That’s because, according to Chinese medical theory, the energy pathways that govern ED run along your whole body. The acupoints your practitioner is likely to use are on your outer limbs, your abdomen, and your back.
Here were the point locations in one pilot ED study at a research university:
- slightly below the navel
- slightly above the hairline at the back of the head
- between the inside ankle bone and the achilles tendon
- in the inside wrist
The bottom line
Evidence is lacking as to the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for ED; it is mostly used currently as a treatment for musculoskeletal pain and certain types of migraine. However in the research that does exist in the field of acupuncture for ED, the acupoints are likely to involve your extremities, your back, and your stomach. Where the needles go in acupuncture generally has a lot to do with how your practitioner interprets the traditional treatment.