Retinitis Pigmentosa | Can Acupuncture Help?

In a recent blog entry I discussed the basics of retinitis pigmentosa, which is a genetic disease resulting in a gradual decline of peripheral vision that can eventually lead to blindness. This article, however, will focus on the effects of acupuncture and how it can help those with retinitis pigmentosa.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupoint Liver 3, typically used to treat eye diseases.

Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. Originating in China more than 2,000 years ago, the term acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body with thin, metallic needles. The needles stimulate blood flow and nerve pathways, decrease inflammation, and most recently have been shown through fMRI and PET-CT research to activate key areas of the brain responsible in influencing their target area for the treatment of specific diseases. For instance, researchers noted the acupoint, Liver 3, located in the webbing between the first and second toe, stimulated a particular region of the visual cortex in the brain.¹ It is not surprising that acupuncturists have been using this point for thousands of years to treat eye diseases.

Other acupoints, located around the wrist and below the knee, that are used to treat migraine headaches were shown through PET-CT imaging to induce specific changes in areas of the brain related to pain due to migraines.²

This explains why many of the points used to treat retinitis pigmentosa are therefore located in areas that would seem unlikely. Most of them are found around the hands, feet, lower legs, and forearms. Only a few of the points are found around the forehead, scalp, and neck.

Current Acupuncture Research on Retinitis Pigmentosa

Dr Andy Rosenfarb, an acupuncturist in Westfield, NJ, is currently working with researchers at Johns Hopkins University studying the effect of acupuncture on retinitis pigmentosa. They have already completed the first phase of their clinical trials utilizing electroacupuncture with positive results, concluding eight of the twelve subjects studied had “a measurable, significant visual function improvement post-treatment.” The patients had varying degrees of significant improvement in symptoms such as light adaptation, visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and reduction of cystoid macular edema, all of which are common symptoms in those afflicted with retinitis pigmentosa. There was also improvement in ocular blood flow to the ophthalmic artery, central retinal artery, and posterior ciliary artery in a number of the patients. The improvement in blood flow is very important, since one of the goals of treatment is to provide better oxygenation and nourishment to the retinal tissues.

Research shows that acupuncture has a beneficial effect upon the circulation to the eyes. A Japanese study utilizing acupuncture for glaucoma patients displayed a positive effect on increasing retrobulbar circulation, which is made up of important cirulatory pathways leading to the eyes.³ Another Japanese study confirmed even more detailed effects to the circulation of the eyes stimulated by acupuncture using ultrasound color doppler imaging.4

Retinitis Pigmentosa Treated with Acupuncture | Video Testimonial

Here is a video by a patient with retinitis pigmentosa describing the effect acupuncture has had on him while being treated at Russell Family Acupuncture.

Acupuncture is a not a cure for retinitis pigmentosa. However, it can provide significant improvement to one’s visual field, acuity, and dark adaptation. The goal of acupuncture is to plateau the vision as much as possible and then stabilize it with follow up treatments to prolong the effects.

More information about the treatments can be found HERE.


1. FMRI evidence of acupoints specificity in two adjacent acupoints. ,Liu H, Xu JY, Li L, Shan BC, Nie BB, Xue JQ. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:932581. doi: 10.1155/2013/932581. Epub 2013 May 23.

2. A PET-CT study on specificity of acupoints through acupuncture treatment on migraine patients. Jie Yang, Fang Zeng, Yue Fang, Li Fang, Wei Qin, Xuguang Liu, Wenzhong Song, Hongjun Xie, Ji Che, Fanrong Liang.

3. Short-term effects of acupuncture on open-angle glaucoma in retrobulbar circulation: additional therapy to standard medication. Takayama S, Seki T, Nakazawa T, Aizawa N, Takahashi S, Watanabe M, Izumi M, Kaneko S, Kamiya T, Matsuda A, Kikuchi A, Yambe T, Yoshizawa M, Nitta S, Yaegashi N. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:157090. doi: 10.1155/2011/157090. Epub 2011 Mar 7.

4. Evaluation of the effects of acupuncture on blood flow in humans with ultrasound color Doppler imaging. Takayama S, Watanabe M, Kusuyama H, Nagase S, Seki T, Nakazawa T, Yaegashi N. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:513638. doi: 10.1155/2012/513638. Epub 2012 Jun 21.


David Russell, CMT, L.AcDavid Russell, L.Ac, is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, with a Master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine and postgraduate studies in Hangzhou, China. Inspired to holistically heal vision conditions, David Russell studied under the nationally acclaimed Dr. Andy Rosenfarb. Now David brings to you a specialized system of acupuncture, nutrition, herbs, and functional medicine to help heal your eyes and restore the health of your body.

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