While many neurological diseases, for instance stroke, require immediate life saving treatment by western medicine, the chronic long term effects of this and other debilitating neurological disease is less well dealt with by western medicine. However, specialist neurological physiotherapy is one treatment that is essential for recovery for lost function. Along side this, acupuncture has shown very positive effects on the alleviation of symptoms for a variety of conditions. Acupuncturists often employ a mixture of body acupuncture and modern scalp acupuncture, with or without electro-acupuncture.
Acupuncture for Neurological Disease
This article by Roisin Golding was first published by the Los Angeles Times (Syn.)
It has been claimed that as early as the Stone age the Chinese used “needles” in a rudimentary form of acupuncture, although it was not until the Bronze and subsequent Iron Age that needles, and therefore acupuncture techniques, were refined. The earliest surviving acupuncture text book, the Yellow Emperor’s Classic, was compiled well over 2,000 years ago and contains detailed theory, including acupuncture point locations, which provide the foundation for present day practice.
The extent to which ancient wisdom is revered in China can be seen through the frequent references to this classical text by the authors of every modern development in China, in an attempt to justify their innovation without insulting their ancestors.
This veneration does not, in any way, prevent the Chinese from embracing the new. Techniques such as electro-acupuncture and even new acupuncture points are being developed all the time. Among these new points, the most exciting are a group of points on the scalp, primarily used to treat diseases of the central nervous system. Again, Chinese writers justify scalp acupuncture using poetic quotations from the ancient classics, usually prefaced by “The importance of the head has been recognised since earliest times … ” lest aspersions be cast on ancestral wisdom.
But the reality is that scalp acupuncture has been developed and mapped out according to the most modern developments in neurology, assisted by techniques such as (brain) tissue staining and MRI scans, so that not only the function but the specific body part controlled by each area of the brain is known. Thus points overlying Wernicke’s area in the brain are used to treat loss of understanding of speech, while points overlying Broca’s area are used to treat loss of speech formation. This modern system of acupuncture, although explored since the 1930’s, has really only developed since 1970 and standardised as late as 1989.
Many studies have now been done which show positive results in treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and post-stroke paralysis. I emphasise that Parkinson’s cannot be cured by this method but prolonged alleviation of many of its symptoms can be achieved. Western treatment of Parkinson’s is complicated by side effects and fluctuations in response to the drugs used, causing serious problems after 2-5 years of treatment in a majority of patients. If Western treatment can be postponed or kept to a minimal level, this is of enormous benefit.
One patient, Eva, (a pseudonym) came to me after experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s for two years. She had had difficulty with movement, often getting “stuck,” crossing the road (Parkinson’s patients have difficulty initiating movements, and often become rigid.) She also had a tremor which was most noticeable in her right leg. Besides sending her immediately to a neurologist for confirmation of diagnosis (even though her symptoms were obviously that of Parkinson’s, she had somehow remained undiagnosed), I started her with both regular and scalp acupuncture treatment.
Unfortunately, scalp acupuncture can be uncomfortable, and so after a short course of treatment, we went back to ordinary (almost) pain-free acupuncture once every 4 – 6 weeks, as a support. That was eight years ago, and she has kept up with her maintenance programme since.
She leads a hectic life, attending meetings in local community groups, becoming actively involved in health and social welfare groups, joining film clubs, attending concerts, theatre, travelling abroad independently, etc. This is a busy schedule for anyone over 70 years old, but for a Parkinson’s sufferer of eleven years, it is remarkable. This woman has a will of iron, which in itself goes a long way towards maintaining her health.
She has been taking her Western medication at reduced levels since first diagnosed. But in the past two years we both noticed a marked downturn in her health and response to treatment, with a slowing down of movement and frequent freezing (where she literally maintains a position for sometimes hours at a time.)
Last year, with her worsening symptoms, I persuaded her to try scalp-acupuncture again. Re-introduction of this, using points related to tremor and movement and corresponding to her affected limbs, brought about definite improvement. But there was a problem: Although the specific symptoms were relieved, she found the treatment process exhausting.
After a years break and further deterioration in her health, she is onto a third round of scalp acupuncture. This time I am using electro-acupuncture in place of the more ‘traditional’ two-hundred-twirls-a-minute needling (difficult to achieve and painful for the patient.) This simultaneously minimises the discomfort while increasing the stimulation. After the first of these treaments she was virtually free of ‘freezing’ episodes for a week, and after the second my receptionist saw her sprint for a cab! This is still early days and I do not expect it to be smooth going nor miraculous in its effect. But it is worth pursuing.
Scalp acupuncture requires much more intensive treatment than ordinary acupuncture, preferably twice a week. It also requires many more treatments over six months. But it is a very promising area of acupuncture, and has shown results in even very difficult cases such as hemiplegia (one-sided paralysis) of twenty years standing – although for best results it should be started within two years after a stroke, the earlier the better (after the patient is stabilised.)
Much more research needs to be done in this area so that its potential can be fully explored and exploited.