Acupuncture in Multidisciplinary Treatment for Post-COVID-19 Syndrome

Med Acupunct. 2022 Jun 1;34(3):177-183. doi: 10.1089/acu.2021.0086. Epub 2022 Jun 16.


Background: Post-COVID syndrome (PCS) is a complex, multisystem illness that may follow SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 infection. As there is limited evidence for individual therapies and no singular treatment for PCS, guidelines endorse a multidisciplinary approach. This is a case report of a patient with PCS benefiting from a comprehensive approach including acupuncture with symptom-titrated physical activity (STPA).

Case: A 50-year-old woman presented from a Long-COVID Clinic referral to an outpatient hospital-affiliated acupuncturist. She had 8 months of fatigue, anosmia, chest pressure, palpitations, and other symptoms following mild assay-confirmed COVID-19. Prior/concurrent medical testing revealed multisystem-inflammatory involvement (pericardial effusion, thyroid dysfunction, and elevated d-dimers). Cardiology/pulmonology cleared the patient for exercise to tolerance considering that serious pathology was absent. The acupuncturist's Traditional Chinese Medicine impression was of Qi Deficiency of the Heart, Lung, Spleen, and Kidney. This patient received 7 sessions of scalp, auricular, and body acupuncture. Physical-therapist (PT)-led STPA began 1-week post-acupuncture, involving 6 30-minute exercise sessions while monitoring her heart rate, with as-needed rest.

Results: The patient's chest pressure and palpitations resolved after 1 acupuncture treatment. With 6 additional treatments, spanning 9 weeks, overlapping with PT-led SPTA, she recovered completely and resumed her normal exercise.

Conclusions: Acupuncture appeared to facilitate PCS recovery. However, the independent effects of acupuncture are less clear, given the concurrent STPA/exercise therapy, and should be explored using large study designs. Acupuncture is an attractive potential PCS therapy, considering its holistic approach and that it may be added to a multidisciplinary, guideline-concordant regimen.

Keywords: COVID-19; Traditional Chinese Medicine; acupuncture; complementary therapies; exercise; pericardial effusion.