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Does Acupuncture Help with Chronic Fatigue?

Do you constantly feel exhausted, despite getting adequate sleep? If so, you may be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). But no need to fret!  Chinese medicine can help with chronic fatigue and all of its associated symptoms. You can get your health and life back on track with acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and proper nutrition. 

It’s typical to feel exhausted following a strenuous activity. But being worn out after a long day of work is not the same as the “fatigue” you experience with CFS. It’s severe and pervasive. Sadly, it has the potential to alter your life drastically. But you don’t have to go on feeling lost, alone, and hopeless. 

So how can you tell if you’re just tired or if you have chronic fatigue?  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sets the following diagnostic standards for CFS:

  • Severe fatigue for six or more months in a row
  • Significant disruptions to daily routines caused by exhaustion
  • Presence of four or more of eight particular symptoms

These symptoms may manifest as:

  • Post-exertional malaise for more than 24 hours
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Impaired attention or short-term memory 
  • Muscular pain
  • Frequent sore throat 
  • Recent onset of headaches
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Joint pain that is not red or swollen 

Treating CFS with standard care can be tricky. But there’s hope even when modern medicine cannot diagnose or treat this disorder. You could benefit from a personalized treatment plan to reduce your symptoms and regain your quality of life. 

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What causes chronic fatigue syndrome?

The cause of CFS remains unclear. But I’ve seen some individuals develop chronic fatigue symptoms after having a viral infection caused by the common Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). 

Over 90% of the global population has EBV. This virus is considered latent, meaning it lies dormant or hidden inside your body for extended periods. Unfortunately, it can be reactivated and cause a wide range of symptoms. 

The virus’s aftereffects include immune system impairment. Your immune system may appear to be modestly compromised. However, CFS is not in and of itself an autoimmune condition.

EBV infections can also cause mononucleosis symptoms. Fever, rash, sore throat, and swollen glands are a few examples of these. As a result, the spleen may swell and become extremely tired.

In addition, hormonal imbalances may also trigger chronic fatigue. These imbalances could happen in your hypothalamus or the adrenal or pituitary glands. Mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or PTSD can also interfere with your hormone responses, contributing to CFS symptoms. 

Typical TCM Patterns Related to Chronic Fatigue

1. Damp Heat

TCM sees damp heat as one cause of chronic fatigue. This latent heat can show up even long after contracting an infection caused by an external pathogenic agent. Then, a series of imbalances develop, gradually weakening your spleen’s energy and other organs. 

A dysfunctional spleen cannot handle this excessive dampness. Heat tends to accumulate in a highly viscous nature. This condition hampers your fluid metabolism. Even worse, it prevents essential nutrients from reaching your cells. 

Your body can hardly regain its normal functioning when this systemic dysfunction continues for a long period of time. The result is extreme fatigue that is hard to get over.  Also, your fatigued body might act as an indication of numerous ailments.

Symptoms of dampness include: 

  • Fatigue
  • Sore or swollen joints
  • Poor flexion and extension of limbs
  • Sticky phlegm
  • Cloudy urine
  • Dull headache
  • Sore throat
  • Thirst
  • Mental fogginess
  • General body heaviness

2. Heart Blood and/or Yin Deficiency

Deficient heart Qi can fail to properly nourish your heart and lead to palpitations and shortness of breath. Your heart opens in your tongue and manifests on your face, resulting in a white tongue coat and a pale complexion. This heart Qi deficiency further causes mental and physical exhaustion since your heart is in charge of your spirit.

Other symptoms include: 

  • Irritability 
  • Disorientation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Insomnia
  • Dream-disturbed sleep 
  • Hot flashes 
  • Night sweats
  • Pale face

3. Spleen Qi and Yang Deficiency

Your spleen transforms and transports your body’s nutrients and fluids. It also controls your muscles. When your spleen is deficient, you may experience muscle weakness. Your fluid transport is also impeded. Several additional organ systems may be affected as a result of a liver and spleen imbalance.

This deficiency is characterized by several symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue for no apparent reason
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Poor appetite
  • Bloated stomach
  • Loose stools or diarrhea
  • Impaired memory
  • Lack of concentration 

4. Liver Qi Stagnation and/or Liver, Spleen, Stomach Disharmony: 

Your liver regulates your emotions, stores your blood, and controls your flow of Qi. When your liver is out of balance, there is emotional depression, as well as congestion of energy and blood flow. 

Symptoms of liver qi stagnation and/or disharmony in the liver, spleen, and stomach include:

  • Physical and mental tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Sighs
  • Chest tightness and hypochondriac distension
  • Alternating constipation and loose stools
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Irregular pulse

5. Kidney Qi and Yang Deficiency

Your kidney moistens and nourishes your organs and tissues and also promotes their proper functioning. Your kidneys are regarded as the powerhouse of the body OR as one of the most important energy systems in the body. So if you are kidney Qi deficient, you’ll experience lower back and knee pains, soreness, or weakness. 

Other symptoms may include: 

  • Fatigue
  • Pale tongue
  • Weak pulse
  • Cold sensation all over the body 
  • Morning diarrhea
  • Frequent urination

6. Phlegm Obstruction

In TCM, unusual diseases are frequently caused by phlegm. Although phlegm can have an external source, it is the internal kind that is implicated in complex diseases. Internal phlegm is caused by a disruption in the body’s fluid metabolism, which is linked to Spleen Qi. 

Symptoms may range from poor general health and intestinal problems and may also include the following: 

  • Fatigue
  • Listlessness
  • Plum-pit qi
  • Chest tightness
  • Sleepiness 
  • Swollen cheeks and legs
  • A feeling of being overweight or heavy
  • Dusky tongue 

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Acupuncture for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Enters acupuncture in the CFS scene. 

Acupuncture has been shown to benefit people with CFS. It effectively treats the symptoms and the underlying causes of persistent fatigue. A 2015 study found that body acupuncture for 4 weeks helped CFS patients feel less exhausted.

Another study employing acupuncture and moxibustion to treat CFS had a 90% success rate, with half of the patients reporting that their condition had been “cured.”

So, if you’re still unsure how acupuncture can help you, here’s how it works. 

After a comprehensive initial review of your medical history and symptoms, your TCM practitioner will devise a customized treatment plan that may include acupuncture, dietary therapy, Chinese herbs, and supplements.  Acupuncture points are chosen according to your constitution type and your presenting symptoms.  They often include points related to your immune system and adrenals. At each visit, you will be assessed through tongue and pulse diagnosis, along with palpation. This allows your practitioner to assess your progress and choose points accordingly. As you continue to heal, different points will be chosen.

The prognosis for healing chronic fatigue varies and is based on a variety of factors including whether it is acute or chronic, the person’s TCM diagnosis, and their overall health. Commonly we see acute cases (under 3 months) resolve fairly quickly (within 3 months time), whereas chronic cases may take longer. The good news is that acupuncture’s overall effects become greater with time and further sessions. Acupuncture activates your neurological system to alleviate pain and inflammation and helps to restore and regulate your Qi. Chinese herbs and targeted supplements will also help to restore balance, decrease pain and inflammation and increase one’s energy.  

 It makes sense that acupuncture helps CFS sufferers recover significantly. It increases their energy, makes them feel happier, and reduces any side effects like body aches.

Other Natural Approaches to Treat Chronic Fatigue

Proper Nutrition

Nothing beats healthy eating! Ditch any unhealthy food in your diet because what you eat impacts how you feel. Here are some tips to help you maintain a healthy weight and feel better:

  • Eat regularly to boost your energy. Do not skip any meals even if you feel too weak or tired to eat. 
  • Consume fresh foods only. They contain more nutrients than tinned or processed foods. 
  • Eat foods free of hormones, pesticides, fertilizers, and artificial preservatives to help your body heal fast. 
  • Include foods like fish, nuts, seeds, veggies, and whole grains. They stabilize your blood sugar levels, which are unpredictable in CFS. 
  • Avoid sweets, alcohol, coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks. They make your body lose nutrients that it critically needs in the form of urine.
  • Take a food sensitivity test upon the recommendation of your practitioner to make sure you don’t have food intolerances exacerbating your fatigue and body pains. 

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Your acupuncturist might recommend some herbs to help you manage CFS. These can include the following:

  • Panax ginseng – relieves fatigue, improves mental performance, and boosts physical endurance.
  • Licorice root – stimulates the adrenal glands.
  • Echinacea – boosts the immune system.
  • Garlic – reduces physical fatigue.
  • Sweet wormwood – relieves pain and fights inflammation.
  • Poria – improves sleep.
  • Desert broomrape – alleviates pain and strengthens the kidneys.


Quality supplements may improve your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and hence, help lessen your CFS symptoms. However, consult your TCM doctor first so you can be guided on how much and how often you should take supplements. 

The following supplements are broken into categories related to CFS: 

  • Sleep: melatonin, valerian, B vitamins
  • Brain function: carnitine, folic acid, omega-3, theanine, NADH
  • Immune function: bata-carotene, carnitine, DHEA, theanine, CoQ10
  • Energy: magnesium, L-carnitine, CoQ10, D-ribose, vitamin B12, NADH
  • Pain: vitamin D, lysine, magnesium

Sleep Schedule

A regular sleep routine is essential for managing CFS. Here are some things that you can do to enjoy better sleep at night: 

  • Establishing a regular wake-up and bedtime
  • Taking a warm Epsom salt bath before retiring for the night
  • Limiting daytime naps
  • Using the bedroom only for sleeping
  • Avoiding exercise or mentally-taxing activities before bedtime
  • Making your bedroom a peaceful haven – dark, quiet, and comfortable

Final Thoughts on Acupuncture for Chronic Fatigue

It’s time you put your CFS symptoms on the back burner. Speak with a TCM practitioner today who can help you approach your case uniquely so you can get back to your best self. Natural approaches such as acupuncture can certainly help you deal with chronic fatigue.