Spinal cord injuries are serious and can result in permanent disability or life-altering complications. When facing a lifetime of pain and difficulties, many individuals are willing to try just about anything to get relief. Something that many individuals suffering from the effects of a spinal cord injury have found helpful is acupuncture.

What Qualifies as a Spinal Cord Injury?

A spinal cord injury is any injury that impacts the spinal column and prevents nerve communication between the damaged area and the brain. This lack of communication can result in physical symptoms such as motor deficit, sensory deficit, bowel or bladder dysfunction, or breathing difficulty.

Doctors use the phrase “complete” to refer to a spinal cord injury that results in the total loss of sensation and movement below the injured part of the body. The phrase “incomplete” refers to an injury that results in some level of loss of sensation and movement below the injury.

What Can Cause a Spinal Cord Injury?

Approximately 400,000 individuals in the United States have experienced a spinal cord injury. Most of these injuries occur between the teen years and early thirties, and the leading cause of these injuries is car accidents. Other spinal cord injuries result from slips and falls, sports-related injuries, trampoline accidents, and acts of violence.

What Is Acupuncture?

Based on ancient Chinese medicine, acupuncture is the practice of placing thin needles into specific parts of the body. It is believed that our bodies have a naturally occurring flow of energy called qi. Pain, illness, and stress is a result of congestion of qi in the body. The goal of the needles is to free congestion and allow the energy to flow freely again. Acupuncture is a natural approach to managing symptoms of spinal cord injury.

Although acupuncture may not sound pleasant, it has less harmful side effects than methods commonly used, which include prescription drugs or surgery. A variety of prescription drugs could be used to help manage symptoms, including antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and opioids. Although these medications may help with symptoms, they present their own side effects of dizziness, altered mood and energy level, and potential addiction.

Why Is Acupuncture Believed to Work?

When a thin needle is inserted into a part of the body referred to as an acupoint, it stimulates nerves. In a healthy person, when nerves are stimulated, an impulse is sent to the spinal cord from the brain. In an individual with a spinal cord injury, the impulses from the nerve is unable to reach the brain. Therefore, the goal of acupuncture is to improve the brain’s reception of these impulses.

The sensation of multiple needles inserted in acupoints will bring the body’s immune system to high alert. Small, inflammatory responses will be sent through the body. It increases blood flow and inflammatory chemicals to the areas targeted by the acupuncture. This inflammatory response is the primary benefit of acupuncture that is accepted by medical professionals.

Additionally, acupuncture encourages the brain to release endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters in the brain that stimulate feelings of wellbeing and can help relieve the sensation of pain.

Will Acupuncture Help Alleviate Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury Right Away?

In most cases, individuals will need to undergo multiple sessions of acupuncture to begin to feel the effects. The body needs time to heal, and the more severe or chronic injuries, the longer it may take to feel the positive effects. Individuals with incomplete spinal cord injuries will likely experience the healing benefits sooner.

Are There Studies to Prove the Benefits Of Acupuncture?

According to New Scientist, trials have shown that acupuncture “improves sensory and motor functions in people with spinal cord injuries.” A group led one such study at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea. They damaged the spines of 75 rats, then split them into three groups. Group one was given acupuncture treatments, group two was given simulated acupuncture treatments, and group three was given no treatment. After a month, the rats that received acupuncture could stand and walk better. They had less nerve cell death and lower levels of inflammation-causing proteins.

The acupuncture was given to the rats in the days immediately following their injuries. Other studies are exploring whether the time between injury and acupuncture will affect the outcome of the treatment. However, it is assumed by most physicians that any treatment has a better chance of improving symptoms if it is started as soon as possible after a sustained injury.

What Are the Potential Side Effects of Acupuncture Used to Treat Spinal Cord Injury?

According to a qualified health expert, the potential side-effects of a spinal cord injury with acupuncture are minimal and primarily limited to the physical area around the needle insertion point. These can include: soreness, fatigue, bleeding, and bruising.

What Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury Can Acupuncture Address?

Acupuncture can address a variety of symptoms, including physical, mental, and emotional. Although the effects are often hard to measure, some individuals have experienced measured improvement for the following symptoms.

Chronic Pain

Many individuals with a spinal cord injury suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain is difficult and discouraging to live with, and is often masked with a variety of antidepressants and painkillers. Acupuncture can help alleviate chronic pain naturally by releasing endorphins in the brain. It also helps balance nerve impulses throughout the body, eliminating those that are overly sensitive.


Individuals living with a permanent disability can often experience anxiety as a secondary symptom. This is usually treated with medication, although other types of therapy can prove useful. Acupuncture helps alleviate anxiety by balancing and regulating neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. Many patients express a feeling of relaxation after an acupuncture treatment.

Blood Pressure

Increased blood pressure or heart rate can be a side effect of stress, immobility, and other contributing factors to spinal cord injury. Continued increased blood pressure can lead to stroke or heart attack, so it is essential to keep it under control.

Although high blood pressure can be treated with medication, acupuncture is a more natural approach. It can help reduce the stress hormones released by the body, which in turn lowers the blood pressure.

Is Acupuncture Right for You?

Acupuncture has numerous benefits, including pain relief, assisting with blood pressure issues, relieving headaches, stress, anxiety, and depression linked to a spinal cord injury. Deciding if acupuncture is right for your situation is a decision that should be undertaken with a medical professional’s input. Like many things, acupuncture on its own will only achieve limited effects. By pairing it with Western medicine, though, you may be able to feel a great deal of relief.


While it does often take patience and multiple sessions, acupuncture can be a successful method for treating a spinal cord injury. These benefits, coupled with its limited side effects and risks, make acupuncture quite an attractive option for individuals with nerve damage, sensory and motor deficit, and some of the other issues that come with a spinal cord injury.

Author's Bio: 

Marina Pal is a renowned author and social media enthusiast.