If you want to know more about acupuncture for brain injury, you’ve come to the right place.
While it often gets mixed results, more and more studies show that acupuncture offers significant benefits for brain injury patients.
In today’s article, we’re covering everything you need to know about acupuncture for brain injury recovery, so you can decide if this natural remedy for brain injury is right for you.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture originated in China over 2,000 years ago. It involves placing thin needles into the skin at specific points in the body.
These points, called meridians, are thought to trigger the body’s natural healing responses.
The science behind acupuncture remains unclear, although there is some evidence that it can increase blood flow and activate the body’s natural painkillers (called endorphins).
Acupuncture mainly treats chronic pain, but it can also help with several other conditions, such as numbness and spasticity.
Benefits of Acupuncture for Brain Injury
Besides helping with pain management, acupuncture also affects the brain itself.
Here are a few of the most important benefits that acupuncture offers for brain injury patients.
1. Helps the Brain Regenerate Cells
One study in 2017 found that acupuncture increased the production of BDNF.
Why is this important?
BDNF stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps the brain generate new nerve cells.
This has huge implications for TBI patients, since this would enable them to recover more fully from their brain damage.
2. Increases Cerebral Blood Flow
Acupuncture also increases blood flow to the brain, which lets the brain get more of the critical nutrients it needs to heal.
It does this by releasing vasodilators, which cause your blood vessels to relax.
This effect can make acupuncture dangerous though if you have a bleeding disorder or are on blood thinners, so check with your doctor before trying it.
3. Releases Endorphins
As we mentioned earlier, acupuncture triggers the release of endorphins in the brain.
Endorphins are hormones that activate your body’s opiate receptors, which means they act as natural painkillers.
This effect makes acupuncture an alternative treatment to consider for pain management in traumatic brain injury.
4. May Decrease Spasticity
Several studies have shown that acupuncture can help reduce spasticity in stroke and brain injury patients.
The reason acupuncture does this might have something to do with the stimulation acupuncture provides.
By stimulating the muscles, it strengthens their connection to the brain, which causes spasticity to lessen.
It’s not, however, effective on its own. Instead, acupuncture has the best results on those who combine it with rigorous physical therapy.
Evidence Against Acupuncture for Brain Injury
We don’t want to give the impression here that acupuncture is a miracle cure. There is plenty of debate on the effectiveness of acupuncture for brain injury treatment, and this article would be incomplete if we didn’t present both sides.
Some researchers have argued that the positive effects of acupuncture are just placebos.
For example, when researchers compared a sham acupuncture treatment to an authentic one, the benefits the patients experienced were nearly identical.
Also, acupuncture effects are sometimes inconsistent, with some people noticing immediate benefits and others not seeing any improvement. This lends more support to the placebo idea.
Then again, acupuncture supporters point out that this is true of other, more mainstream medicines. Not everyone finds pain relief from morphine, for example.
Bottom line: the scientific evidence for acupuncture is mixed. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t try it; it just means you should go into it with realistic expectations.
Is Acupuncture Safe?
While it might sound scary to get poked with needles, most people agree that acupuncture is a painless experience.
In fact, the needles acupuncturists use are so small that many people do not feel them at all.
As far as safety goes, as long as you do not have a bleeding disorder, acupuncture is a safe procedure. Even doctors skeptical of acupuncture’s benefits agree it poses no health risks.
Just make sure you see a highly trained acupuncturist who keeps their needles sanitary.
Should You Try Acupuncture for Brain Injury?
While the evidence for acupuncture might be mixed, the physiological effects it has on the brain and body is undeniable.
This means, even though there is no guarantee acupuncture will work, it might be worth a try.
It’s important to remember that you will usually need more than one session before you see results.
Also, make sure you continue with your other therapies. Acupuncture can be a good supplementary treatment, but it can’t replace the benefits you get from your physical therapy sessions.
In the end, if you do try acupuncture for brain injury, the worst-case scenario is nothing changes. But if it works for you, it could relieve some traumatic brain injury symptoms that won’t seem to go away.