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Is Acupuncture for Spinal Cord Injury Effective?

understanding the benefits of acupuncture for spinal cord injury

Looking for some alternative forms of treatment? Acupuncture for spinal cord injury may be an effective option!

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice in which thin, hair-like needles are placed into specific points on the body to reduce pain and neurological problems.

It’s believed that your body has a natural flow of energy called qi. When your qi gets congested, you become prone to pain, stress, and disease.

Acupuncture helps to promote your body’s natural ability to heal itself by freeing congested acupoints.

The appeal of acupuncture is that it’s simple, comparatively inexpensive, and has few risk factors.

Compared to alternatives like surgery and prescription drugs, acupuncture has less harmful side effects.

It’s believed to help provide symptomatic relief to spinal cord injury patients for sensorimotor dysfunction, pain, neurogenic bladder or bowel, pressure sores, spasticity, and osteoporosis.

The current methods for treating pain after spinal cord injury include the use of opioids, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants. While they can help reduce pain, they often come with harmful side effects like addiction, feeling sedated, and dizziness.

Does Acupuncture for Spinal Cord Injury Work?

acupuncture for spinal cord injury treatment

When you insert an acupuncture needle into an acupoint, nerves are stimulated, and an impulse is sent to the spinal cord.

When you have a spinal cord injury, that nerve impulse can’t normally reach the brain.

The effectiveness of acupuncture for spinal cord injury highly depends on the severity of your injury.

More positive results have been observed in people with incomplete SCIs than those with complete SCIs.

What’s the reasoning for the healing effects of acupuncture?

One reason is that being pricked by a bunch of little needles causes your immune system to be on alert and send a bunch of small, inflammatory responses throughout the body. The increased blood flow and inflammatory chemicals to these areas help clear the buildup.

Another is that the needles trigger the brain to release neurotransmitters like endorphins that make you feel good and relieve pain.

Why is There So Much Skepticism Surrounding Acupuncture?

is acupuncture an effective treatment for SCI complications?

Acupuncture is something that people completely swear by or think is a complete gimmick.

It’s difficult to scientifically test if acupuncture works because the patient can usually tell when he/she is being poked by the needle.

Even after sham acupuncture (which is when they only pretend to poke you or when they poke you but not in the correct acupoints), people claimed to feel better.

So does this mean that acupuncture has a significant placebo effect or that the acupoints don’t really matter?

It’s hard to say, but if it makes you feel better, it’s still a win, right?

Other factors that make it difficult to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture are the small sample sizes, lack of standardization, and limited outcome measuring options.

That being said, many people express confidence in the healing effects of acupuncture, and it’s a practice that has stood the test of time for over 4,000 years.

What Are the Side Effects of Acupuncture for Spinal Cord Injury?

One of the reasons why so many people are open to acupuncture is because it’s generally safe and has only a few potential side effects.

Adverse side effects of acupuncture for spinal cord injury include:

  • soreness
  • bruising
  • fatigue
  • bleeding

Compared to the side effects of common pain-relievers for SCI like addiction, constipation, and liver damage, the side effects of acupuncture are relatively minor.

What is Electroacupuncture for Spinal Cord Injury?

Doctor applying electroacupuncture on a spinal cord injury patient's back

Electroacupuncture is when an electric charge is added to the needles. It’s believed that electrical stimulations help enhance the effects.

Electroacupuncture and regular acupuncture both target the same acupoints for therapeutic relief.

However, electroacupuncture intensifies the treatment and is performed in a shorter amount of time.

Similar to electric epidural stimulation of the spinal cord, electroacupuncture activates neurons in an effort to improve sensory and motor function.

Acupuncture to Treat Secondary Complications of Spinal Cord Injury

healing effects of acupuncture for SCI

You probably won’t feel the effects of acupuncture instantly. Most people notice subtle, gradual changes with repeated sessions.

Generally, the longer you’ve had a condition, the longer it will take to heal.

Let’s go over how acupuncture may help treat a few secondary complications of spinal cord injury.

Chronic Pain

Acupuncture is mainly used in the United States for pain relief.

It releases endorphins and helps balance out nerve impulses that run throughout the body for natural pain relief.


People usually feel super energized or relaxed after their acupuncture visits.

Acupuncture helps to regulate the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain that affect mood; so if you’re prone to anxiety, acupuncture can help calm you down.

Blood Pressure

When you’re stressed or anxious, your ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in.

This causes your blood pressure and heart rate to increase, which can lead to serious health problems like stroke or heart attack.

As mentioned earlier, acupuncture can help reduce the release of stress hormones, which can lower blood pressure.

Acupuncture may also be helpful for spinal cord injury patients who cannot be as physically active as they’d like to lower blood pressure.

Muscle Spasticity

Electroacupuncture has proved effective in treating spasticity after spinal cord injury, but only with continued use.

It works by exciting the motor neurons in the spinal cord that signal muscles to relax.

What Do You Think About Acupuncture for Spinal Cord Injury?

There have been thousands of trials worldwide over the effectiveness of acupuncture and a consensus still has yet to be reached.

It’s really up to you to determine if it works or not.

Because it’s relatively cheap and has only a few side effects, it may be worth trying before committing to medication or surgery.

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