Urinary incontinence is quite common and is estimated that worldwide can effect up to 200 million people. The incidence is much higher in women than in men. In women the most common causes are pregnancy, menopause and post birth and in men it is an enlarged prostate. Other diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease can lead to urination problems. Children can also be effected by urinary incontinence as well as bed wetting. The three common medications used to treat urinary incontinence are festoterodine, tolterodine and oxybutynin. These medications only partially help in one in ten cases and researchers Shamliyan et al in their 2012 paper “Systematic Review: Benefits and Harms of Pharmacologic Treatment for Urinary Incontinence in Women” had even more concerns about their side effects.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used for thousands of years in the treatment of many urination problems. There are a number of causes according to traditional medical theory leading to urinary problems. Ancient physicians made the connection between the kidneys and the bladder and therefore often the traditional Chinese medicine treatment is focused on tonifying or supplementing the kidney energy. Supplementation of the kidneys is often also done with moxibustion.
Has there been any research to see if acupuncture can help urinary incontinence?
What I found odd about modern China is that even though acupuncture and moxibustion has been used for thousands of years to treat urinary incontinence, modern physicians in China still want to go and research it. For example, Liu et Al conducted research over a period between 2013 and 2015 with 12 Chinese hospitals and found that the results showed “less urine leakage and episodes of urine incontinence“.
Where are the acupuncture points to treat urinary incontinence?
In the research study from China standardised acupuncture points were selected including common ones on the sacrum including bladder 32 ciliao. The problem with researchers selecting all the same points to do their research really limits the results as compared to acupuncture performed in a private clinical setting, the choice of the number acupuncture points would be much higher. Points can be selected to suit the individual’s requirements. A post menopausal woman may require different acupuncture points to someone who has just given birth. Alan Jansson, a well known traditional acupuncturist on Australia’s Gold Coast, says “In selecting acupuncture points, unfortunately, one size does fit all. I might use abdominal points as well as points on the back in tandem with moxibustion on the ankle. Most of the modern research doesn’t even use moxibustion and I use this technique on on nearly all patients with urinary incontinence”
What about Chinese herbs for Urinary Incontinence?
There are numerous herbs and herbal formulas that can treat urinary incontinence. Historically, some of these formulas date back more than 1000 years such as Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan. Urinary incontinence is often complicated with a condition that is referred to as damp-heat in traditional Chinese medicine or coexists with energy deficiency so herbs may be supplemented to enhance and broaden the scope of the formula. There is not unfortunately, just one herb or formula that across the board treats every person who suffers from urinary incontinence. Another traditional medicine that has the tradition of being used to urinary incontinence is sang piao xiao. Interestingly, it is not actually a herb but is the case from the praying mantis insect where she lays her eggs, commonly seen on Mulberry trees.
Some acupuncturists who are members of Acupuncture NZ have had additional training in Chinese herbs and have obtained either a Diploma, Bachelor or Master’s degree in Chinese herbal medicine.