Using Acupuncture for Panic Disorder

Acupuncture for panic disorder. Getty Images Credit: Caiaimage/Trevor Adeline
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is defined as a variety of practices and products used to promote health and healing that are not part of standard medical care practices. In recent years, CAM practices have grown in popularity as a way to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other anxiety disorders.

Some common CAM practices include herbal medicines, aromatherapy, yoga, and therapeutic massage. Acupuncture is another type of CAM practice that may enhance personal wellness.

Considered one of the most popular types of CAM, acupuncture is currently being used to treat a wide range of conditions. As acupuncture continues to grow in popularity, more research has been focused on this treatment for panic and anxiety symptoms.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a healing technique that originated thousands of years ago from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). This practice is based on the concept that medical conditions and mental health disorders are caused by an imbalance in energy.

TCM theorizes that the body contains vital life energy called chi or qi. When the body and mind are functioning properly, chi should flow through the body’s energy channels. These channels are called meridians and are located at certain points throughout the body.

According to this tradition, sometimes chi becomes congested in different meridian pathways, leading to disease or disorders. The goal of acupuncture is to restore the health and balance of these channels.

How Does It Work?

During acupuncture treatment sessions, small needles are placed along with specific areas of the body. Known as acupuncture points, these areas are thought to be where blockage of energy may be occurring. The needles come in a variety of thicknesses and lengths and are used to stimulate and open up blocked channels of energy.

Some Western experts have conceptualized acupuncture through the lens of neuroscience, where nerves, muscles, and connective tissues are stimulated and neurochemicals are released.

Until the late 1990s, acupuncture needles were not recognized as tools to treat medical conditions. In 1997, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of acupuncture needles as medical devices.

During that same year, acupuncture was recognized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the treatment of pain management and other medical conditions. The FDA currently regulates the standards for acupuncture needle use and safety.


Clinical trials examining acupuncture for anxiety has shown some positive results. However, this research has many limitations, including small sample sizes, difficulty with control groups, and limited ways to measure outcomes.

Acupuncturists and medical professionals are unclear exactly why it may help with anxiety, but some research has noted that acupuncture appears to have a calming effect. More rigorous research studies need to be conducted in order to prove the effectiveness of acupuncture for anxiety disorders.

Not all CAM practices have been thoroughly researched for safety and effectiveness. Further information on the scientific evidence, safety, and risks of various CAM practices can be found at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website.

Getting Treated With Acupuncture

If you are interested in treating your anxiety and panic symptoms through acupuncture, your first step will be to consult your doctor. It is also important that you receive these services from a licensed acupuncturist.

Professional acupuncture partitioners can be located through websites, including the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.

The use of acupuncture to treat medical and mental health conditions continues to rise, making it more readily available. Since it has been evaluated for effectiveness and is available through many hospitals, some insurance policies may cover some of your acupuncture treatments.

A Word From Verywell

More conventional treatment options for panic disorder, such as medications and psychotherapy, have been more supported by research. However, acupuncture may be a helpful addition to your standard treatment plan. Depending on your situation, acupuncture may be worth considering as an additional treatment that might reduce stress, anxiety, and panic disorder symptoms.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pilkington K. Anxiety, depression and acupuncture: A review of the clinical research. Auton Neurosci. 2010;157(1-2):91-5. doi:10.1016/j.autneu.2010.04.002

  2. National Cancer Institue at the National Institutes of Health. Traditional Chinese Medicine

  3. National Institute for Complementary and Integrative Health. Acupuncture: In Depth.

  4. Kim YK. Panic Disorder: Current Research and Management Approaches. Psychiatry Investig. 2019;16(1):1-3. do:10.30773%2Fpi.2019.01.08

Additional Reading
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

  • Pilkington, K. (2010). Anxiety, Depression, and Acupuncture: A Review of the Clinical Research. Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical, 157, 91–95.

  • Wang, S-M, & Kain, Z. N. (2001). Auricular Acupuncture: A Potential Treatment for Anxiety. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 92, 548-553.

  • Horowitz, S. (2009). Acupuncture for Treating Mental Health Disorders. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 15(3), 135-141.

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.