Acupuncture for high blood pressure: how it works

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In the United States, approximately 46% of adults suffer from hypertension or high blood pressure.

If you live with high blood pressure, a healthcare team may recommend treating your symptoms with lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication. But acupuncture, a healing technique rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), can also benefit you as part of your treatment plan.

Acupuncture has helped people solve various health problems for about 3,000 years. This practice involves placing very thin, flexible needles in specific places on your body, called acupuncture points, to stimulate healing. Modern acupuncture also includes electroacupuncture, which channels an electric current between acupuncture needles.

Existing evidence exploring the benefits of acupuncture for hypertension remains quite mixed. Some to research shows promise, but other studies have struggled to eliminate bias and obtain consistent results.

Read on to find out how acupuncture can help relieve high blood pressure and get the details to try it out for yourself.

There are two main types of hypertension: primary and secondary.

Primary hypertension does not have a single cause. It is usually linked to risk factors such as genetics, age and lifestyle.

Secondary hypertension occurs due to an underlying cause, such as certain health conditions and medications. Between 5% and 10% of people with high blood pressure have secondary hypertension.

Acupuncture and primary hypertension

Acupuncture can help you manage primary hypertension, especially if it helps minimize the impact of risk factors such as age and stress.

A study 2021 involved 122 postmenopausal women. Half of the women received 4 weeks of acupuncture every 6 months for 2 years, while the other half received no treatment.

According to the results, acupuncture appeared to significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in women who received acupuncture.

Chronic stress can also increase your chances of developing primary hypertension – and according to research 2014acupuncture may help reduce your stress levels over time.

Acupuncture and secondary hypertension

Acupuncture may not directly help manage secondary hypertension.

A study 2019 of 44 people with obstructive sleep apnea – a condition that can cause secondary hypertension – found that acupuncture appeared to have no effect on participants’ blood pressure.

Still, acupuncture can help relieve symptoms of conditions that can cause secondary hypertension, including:

A study 2018 included 22 pregnant women with preeclampsia, a condition that involves high blood pressure. Half of the women received up to 10 acupuncture sessions over 2 weeks, while the other half received the usual treatment.

Adding acupuncture to usual treatments for preeclampsia lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure more than usual treatments alone. At the end of the study, participants who received acupuncture experienced significantly greater improvement in their blood pressure than those who received the usual treatment.

A Case Study 2019 even found that acupuncture helped a woman maintain her pregnancy after being diagnosed with preeclampsia at 27 weeks. After 5 weeks of acupuncture and acupressure, she delivered a baby on week 34 with Apgar scores of 8 and 9 – in other words, a healthy newborn.

According to TCM practitioners, acupuncture helps balance the qi or life energy in your body. Acupuncture points are the specific points where qi can flow from your organs to the surface of your body. Meridians, or pathways, connect these external points to your internal organs.

When an acupuncturist correctly stimulates combinations of specific acupuncture points, it is believed to balance your qi and help regulate different bodily functions, including your blood pressure.

Scientific evidence has yet to explain exactly how acupuncture works, but stimulating certain points on your body can influence that of your body central nervous systeminfluencing blood flow as well as how your body produces key hormones.

When it comes to hypertension, acupuncture can help regulate your blood pressure by act on hormones involved in the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS). This system maintains a level blood pressure and balances your fluids and electrolytes.

In particular, acupuncture can alter the way your RAAS hormones and enzymes appear in your blood and stimulate receptors in your body that regulate blood pressure.

Acupuncture could also work on your limbic system to increase your levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which plays a key role in your brain’s reward system. Research from 20201 suggests that dopamine may reduce oxidative stress — excess free radicals — and help keep your blood pressure in balance.

To research also highlights the relaxing effects of acupuncture on the walls of your arteries and veins, which can help lower your blood pressure.

Acupressure, a related approach, involves stimulating acupuncture points by applying pressure with fingertips rather than needles. You can also try acupressure yourself once you have learned the correct points to stimulate.

Research exploring the effectiveness of acupressure for hypertension suggests that it may help regulate blood pressure alongside traditional treatments:

  • A small study from 2016 found pressure on the taichong point helped lower blood pressure. Although the results only lasted 30 minutes, the study authors suggest that you could use this strategy at home to help maintain low blood pressure.
  • A small study 2019 suggests that acupressure lowers your blood pressure by stimulating blood circulation and relaxation. Although the study did not identify the points used by the participants, it did suggest that acupressure could help older people lower their blood pressure at home.
  • A 2020 review found that auricular acupressure, or acupressure on certain points in your ear, may offer a non-invasive way to lower your blood pressure on your own, especially to boost other treatments.

How to try it

The taichong stitch is one of The most common acupuncture points for hypertension. To stimulate it by acupressure:

  • Find the space between your big toe and the toe next to it.
  • Using a finger, find the groove between the bones, or metatarsals, that extends toward your ankle.
  • Move your finger in this groove an inch or two until you reach a stopping point – this is the taichong point.

Many smaller studies suggest that acupuncture may help improve hypertension:

  • A small study from 2015 found that 33 participants treated with acupuncture had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure after 8 weeks of treatment.
  • A 2018 report found that acupuncture treatments helped lower blood pressure for 1 to 24 hours.
  • A 2019 review found that acupuncture combined with western medicine approaches could help improve hypertension more effectively than western medicine alone.

Nevertheless, experts question the quality and rigor of many of these studies.

Acupuncture can certainly help lower blood pressure for many people. Yet, as most research points out, these results often don’t last long. You would probably need weekly or even more frequent sessions to make acupuncture a long-term approach to lowering your blood pressure.

Future high-quality research may offer more support for acupuncture’s ability to improve hypertension.

When performed by a certified acupuncturist, acupuncture is generally safe for most people, with little risk of side effects.

Side effects are not common, but you may notice:

Problems can arise if your practitioner does not use sterile single-use needles. But for trained and licensed acupuncturists, this is common practice.

Improperly performed acupuncture can lead to infection or, in rare cases, serious side effects such as central nervous system damage or punctured organs.

You’ll want to ask a medical professional before trying acupuncture if you have a bleeding disorder like hemophilia or a metal allergy.

It is always a good idea to opt for a certified acupuncturist.

In the United States, the National Commission for Certification in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine certify acupuncturists. You can find a licensed acupuncturist in your area using their phone book.

You will also find reputable acupuncturists across Acumeter and American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.

Other useful tips for finding the right acupuncturist:

  • Ask friends or colleagues to recommend reputable acupuncturists in your community.
  • Use a search engine to find an acupuncturist with excellent reviews.
  • Check with your insurance plan to see if they cover acupuncture.
  • Ask a doctor or healthcare professional for a referral.

Once you find a potential acupuncturist, make sure they have a valid license to practice acupuncture and don’t hesitate to ask any questions you have about the process. If they don’t answer your questions to your satisfaction or if you don’t feel comfortable with them, you may want to find someone who is more suitable for you.

While its effectiveness in lowering long-term blood pressure remains up for debate, smaller studies suggest that acupuncture may temporarily help improve high blood pressure.

You can safely use acupuncture with most blood pressure medications, and this combo might do more to lower your blood pressure than the medications alone.

If needles aren’t right for you, home acupressure might also have a temporary but noticeable positive impact on hypertension.


Courtney Telloian is a writer whose work has appeared on Healthline, Psych Central, and Insider. Previously, she worked on the editorial teams of Psych Central and GoodTherapy. Her areas of interest include holistic approaches to health, particularly women’s well-being, and mental health-centric topics.

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