Needles being inserted into a patient's skin (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons).
Over its 2,500 years of development, a wealth of experience has accumulated in the practice of acupuncture, attesting to the wide range of diseases and conditions that can be effectively treated with this approach. Here we look into its benefits in treating neurological disorders.
In the neurological field, headaches, migraines and neuralgia are the common painful conditions treated with acupuncture. Strokes and their sequelae can also be treated with acupuncture. Early treatment of paresis after stroke has proved highly effective. In recent years, however, a number of controlled clinical evaluations have been undertaken in case of stroke patients. For example, in randomised controlled studies, acupuncture treatment of hemiplegia due to cerebral infarction gave better results than conventional medication and physiotherapy. There were also beneficial effects when acupuncture was used as a complement to rehabilitation.
In one study, patients with ischaemic cerebrovascular disease treated with acupuncture were compared with patients treated with conventional drugs. Nerve function, as evaluated by electroencephalographic map and somatosensory showed a marked improvement in patients treated with acupuncture. This has been further confirmed by experimental studies.
Comparative studies have shown acupuncture treatments to be as effective for treating hemiplegia due to cerebral haemorrhage as for that due to cerebral infarction. Since early treatment with physiotherapy is unsatisfactory, it is advisable to use acupuncture as the primary treatment. Even in hemiplegia of long duration, remarkable improvements can often be achieved. Hemiplegia due to other causes, such as brain surgery, can also be improved by acupuncture.
Aphasia caused by acute cerebrovascular disorders can also be treated with acupuncture.
Peripheral nervous disorders are often treated with acupuncture. For example, good effects for Bell’s palsy have been reported in randomised controlled trials.
Facial spasm is another peripheral nervous disorder for which acupuncture treatment may be indicated. For this condition it has been shown that wrist-ankle acupuncture is significantly better than traditional body acupuncture. Coma is a serious condition that can hardly be cured by acupuncture alone, but in a comparative study of two groups of patients with similar levels of coma, a significantly greater number of patients in the acupuncture group had a 50 per cent or greater neurological recovery than those in the control group.
This suggests that it is reasonable to incorporate acupuncture along with other therapeutic and supportive measures in the treatment of the comatose patient.