Neurological disorders are of great concern today. In addition to stroke recovery, other widespread neurological conditions include migraine headaches, Bell’s palsy, Ramsay Hunt syndrome, post-concussive syndrome, and vertigo, all of which are more common than one might realize. Stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in the U.S. (www.strokecenter.org), and, according to the CDC, stroke is one of the leading causes of deaths, killing more than 130,000 Americans each year (www.cdc.gov).
According to the World Health Organization, headache disorders, including migraines as well as tension and cluster headaches, are among the most common chronic disorders of the nervous system, with 30% of adults reporting migraines. Additionally, individuals suffering from vertigo make up 3.9 million emergency visits annually (Samy, 2007).
Neurological illnesses can be physically and mentally debilitating for the ones suffering from them, and the consequent stress on the caretaker and families can be exhausting as well. There may be little or slow improvement from traditional pharmaceutical intervention. Acupuncture and scalp acupuncture in particular can offer a noninvasive solution. Numerous clinical trials and studies have been published on the effects of utilizing scalp acupuncture for neurological disorders. In one trial, increased signal activity was recorded by MRI in studying the effects of scalp acupuncture on blood oxygen level of the brain and somatosensory cortex (Park et al., 2009).
Scalp acupuncture was first established in 1970 in China during treatment of a woman recovering from a stroke who suffered from right-side paralysis along her whole body. The pioneer of scalp acupuncture was Dr. Chiao Shun-fa, a renowned neurosurgeon. He experimented with the notion that needling points corresponding to the brain rather than the limb affected may have greater success in treatment of paralysis of cerebral origin (Wei, 1977). This scientific breakthrough began an entire movement of scalp acupuncture in China which was tested in various clinics utilizing many case studies over the next 30 years and is ongoing today.
Scalp acupuncture differs from acupuncture of classic traditional points along the meridians on the body. When utilizing classic acupuncture points, the point is located by combining our textbook empirical knowledge of the point location together with palpation of the body to determine the precise point location on the individual patient. Many points are located utilizing an anatomical reference such as a nearby bone, tendon, or muscle location. For example, a popular point for digestive health and overall immunity is St36, Stomach 36, or ZuSanLi. It is located on the anterior aspect of the lower leg, 3 cun below St35, Stomach 35, or Dubi, one fingerbreadth from the anterior crest of the tibia. The tibia bone is utilized here as a location landmark (Acupuncture.com).
The acupuncture needle is inserted perpendicularly. The needling method changes with various point locations on the body with regard to the anatomical vasculature. When needling over certain areas where the anatomy lies closer to the surface, the needle method may be oblique or transverse. This is something a skilled licensed acupuncturist learns over many of years of education.
Scalp acupuncture is different. The point is located by mapping out various zones on the scalp which correspond to various regions and functions of the body. (Dharmananda et al., 2000). In a case of paralysis, the zone mapping is essential to stimulate motor control on the affected location, i.e. when the paralysis is in the upper motor or lower motor region of the body.
The needling technique of scalp points differs as well. It is generally referred to as “threading the needle.” The needle is inserted at a particular shallow depth, making it practically painless. It is threaded to cover a distance in length of about 1 cun, or slightly less than 1 inch, as opposed to the direct insertion mentioned previously with body points. Stimulation on the needles in scalp acupuncture has a direct effect on the cerebral cortex, and as a result it can be a tremendously effective tool in treating neurological diseases.
Over the years, many schools of scalp acupuncture have arisen both in China and in the United States. Zhu’s Scalp Acupuncture is a clinic and school located in San Jose, California (www.scalpacupuncture.org). Its founder is Dr. Ming Zing Zhu, L.Ac., a pioneer in the field for over 50 years who uses his own vast clinic experience on proven zones and methods of scalp acupuncture.
In my own practice, I treat neurological disorders daily. I often work with patients who have residual facial paralysis from stroke recovery, Bell’s palsy, acoustic neuroma, and Ramsay Hunt syndrome. In all these cases, treatment is best when begun early, immediately after the onset of the disease. Working with a patient who initially may have difficulty smiling or drinking from a cup is challenging. They often describe themselves as feeling ugly and depressed as a result. Acknowledging how they see themselves is a first step, as so many of their friends and family brush it off, telling them it’s hardly noticeable.
Acupuncture treatments build on themselves; therefore, with a series of treatments we begin to see the changes. The patient no longer drools, no longer needs to drink from a straw, and is no longer avoiding mirrors. We work on their confidence and depression as well. Treating neurological disorders is something I personally find most rewarding in my practice.
I believe one’s education is never done. I often seek out new clinical trials and attend medical seminars on new developments. I incorporate and combine scalp acupuncture along with classic body acupuncture points for the best outcome for my patients, and I look forward to future developments of scalp acupuncture and its effectiveness for neurological illnesses.Â v
Deborah Rothman is a licensed acupuncturist and a Diplomate of Acupuncture with a private practice in Woodmere. Comments and questions are welcome. She can be reached at 516-203-4500 or deborah@AcuZen.com. Please visit www.AcuZen.com and follow Acuâ€‘Zen on Facebook.
Acupuncture.com. Gateway to Chinese medicine, health, and wellness. www.acupuncture.com/education/points/stomach/st36.htm
Dharmananda, S., Vickers, E. (2000) “Synopsis of Scalp Acupuncture.” Institute for Traditional Medicine. www.itmonline.org/arts/newscalp.htm
Park, Su., Shin, As., Jahng, Gh., Moon, Sk., Park, Jm. (2009). “Effects of scalp acupuncture versus upper and lower limb acupuncture on signal activation of blood oxygen level dependent MRI of the brain and somatosensory cortex.” J.Â Altern Complement Med., 15, pp. 193—200
Samy, H. (2017) “Dizziness, Vertigo, and Imbalance.” Medscape
“Scalp Acupuncture.” www.scalpacupuncture.org
“Stroke Fact Sheet” (2016). www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_stroke.htm
The Internet Stroke Center. www.strokecenter.org/patients/about-stroke/stroke-statistics/
Wei, W. (1977) “China’s acupuncture and neurology aids stroke patients.” New Scientist, Vol. 73, No. 1036, p. 199
WHO (2017) www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs277/en/