Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy practiced for more than 2500 years to cure disease and relieve pain (Lee & Liao 1990). There are 361 identified acupoints that have been formed into a network of 14 channels called the meridians. Acupuncture therapy has been shown to be effective in improving functional outcomes in hemiplegic stroke patients and in paraplegic spinal cord injured patients (Cheng et al. 1998). In electrical acupuncture therapy, electrical stimulation is provided directly to the acupoint areas. It has been speculated that acupuncture therapy through the correct acupoints and meridians in the acute SCI episode will assist in the minimization of posttraumatic cord shrinkage and sparing of the ventral horn neurons (Politis & Korchinski 1990; Ran et al. 1992; Tsay 1974; Wu 1990).
With acupuncture thin metal needles are inserted into specific body sites and slowly twisted manually or stimulated electrically. The uncomfortable pain sensation or de qi, a prerequisite for effective acupuncture therapy, is induced by needle manipulation (Wong et al. 2003).
The randomized control trial by Wong et al. (2003) studied the use of electrical acupuncture therapy through adhesive surface electrodes and concomitant auricular acupuncture therapy in improving the neurologic or functional recovery in acute traumatic SCI patients. The study demonstrated that in the acupuncture group all sensory, motor and FIM scores improved significantly when examined on the day of discharge from hospital and one year after injury (p<0.05). The control group (auricular acupuncture) demonstrated only significant improvement in motor score at one-year post injury follow up (p=0.023). At discharge and at one year post injury follow up, the acupuncture group revealed significant improvement in all AIS and FIM scores when compared to the control group (p<0.05). An inherent bias may have been introduced into this study as the reviewer who assessed the participants was not blinded to the group assignment.
There is level 2 evidence (from one randomized controlled trial; Wong et al. 2003) that showed that the use of concomitant auricular and electrical acupuncture therapy may improve the neurological and functional recovery of acute spinal cord injured individuals.
The use of concomitant auricular and electrical acupuncture therapies when implemented early in acute spinal cord injured persons may contribute to neurologic and functional recoveries in spinal cord injured individuals with AIS A and B.