What is electro-acupuncture, you might be asking. We insert the needles into the usual indicated points for the intent of the treatment and then a few of the needles are plugged into a TENS unit. Some are familiar with the TENS unit in physical therapy when little pads stick on the body and then electric impulses contract the muscle groups where the pad is placed. With the needles we use tiny little prongs that hold onto the needle and the electric impulse brings a more isolated stimulation to the acupuncture point feeling like a light tapping. This stimulation keeps the needle in more of an active state that brings increased qi and blood flow to the area stimulated.
I often reference this study known as the Stener Victorin protocol that focuses on development of follicles through the back side points with electro-acupuncture. Rather than the previous standard that suggested 3 months of acupuncture to prepare for IVF retrieval, with this treatment after 8 sessions (Twice a week for four weeks) optimal results were achieved for the outcome of the retrieval.
“Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electro-acupuncture”
I typically gravitate to stimulating directly around the ovaries as the ovulation window approaches. In the following study, points on the low abdomen and legs were stimulated with the TENS unit. Women in this control group indeed saw more mature eggs in their retrieval cycle as well.
"The point selections were chosen based on research which improved oocyte quality, oocyte counts, and fertilization rates of patients undergoing IVF. These points included CV 4,CV 3, EX-CA 1, ST 36, SP 6, and KI 3. Of note, SP 6 and CV 4 were chosen because they can regulate hormone levels (estradiol, FSH, LH, GnRH) in the hypothalamic–pituitary–ovarian axis (HPOA).31" You can look at the details of the study found below.
“Electro-acupuncture Enhances Number of Mature Oocytes and Fertility Rates for In Vitro Fertilization”
National Library of Medicine: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
More studies are available on acupuncture's use in conjunction with work done though the IVF process as follicle activity is closely monitored throughout the process. Using electro-acupuncture during Phase 2, pre-ovulatory time, and Phase 3, supporting the ovulation window when trying to conceive naturally will be equally as effective.
Lastly, I’ll talk a little bit about electro-acupuncture’s use in labor induction. It has become more well known in the medical community that acupuncture can help avoid a medical induction when the due date is approaching or past. We see many women at the office who have never tried acupuncture previously but were referred in to try an acu-induction by their MD or Midwife. We encourage our regular acupuncture patients that we support throughout their pregnancies to begin resuming more regular frequency of treatment a month prior to their due date. Acupuncture is not going to put you into labor before your body is ready. In the last month we don’t begin adding in the electro stim until it is reported that there is some degree of dilation and effacement. Of course, we can offer these “acupuncture induction treatments” without the use of the TENS unit, but I find treatment to be much more effective when the treatment is in conjunction with E-stim. There is an additional cost of $15 per session when we make use of the TENS unit, but I feel that it is well worth the addition.