Can acupuncture help repair nerve damage after a spinal injury?

Q:  Can acupuncture help to repair nerve damage after a spinal injury? I'm asking specifically in relation to a lower (sacral) spinal injury and associated incontinence. 

A:  There are precious few studies of this problem. One of the few, which is too small from which to draw too many conclusions,

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9739588

dates from 1998, and a second study from over a decade ago

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12510181

uses some quite all-purpose formula treatments and seems to generate some interesting but unspecified results.

Generally speaking a great deal depends on the nature of the cause of the problem. If the spinal nerves were damaged by an accident there is usually a great deal less that can be done than when the problem is caused by a problem like collapsed discs or crushed vertebrae.

Nerve regeneration is a hot topic at the moment, with considerable optimism being placed in the concept of neuroplasticity. While we have seen some interesting case histories involving re-wiring taking place in the brain damage to the spinal cord does not seem to have been tested yet. There are some lab tests on animals using acupuncture to stimulate nerve regeneration, what out colleagues disparagingly describe as 'ratpuncture', but even if this were to show positive results it would not be conclusive that similar treatment would work with a human.

The best advice we can give, especially in cases like yours, is to visit a local BAcC member to get a brief face to face assessment of what might be possible given your own unique and specific circumstances. This will be far more accurate than any view we can advance from here without seeing exactly what is happening. The system which we use is based on a theory of the flow of energy, and if a practitioner sees blockages in major pathways of flow there may be something which acupuncture can achieve. There are occasions, for example, where physical damage can affect a nearby pathway of energy in such a way as to cause a functional disturbance which looks to all intents and purposes as though it were directly caused by the original injury.

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