Complexity of the Nervous System
The nervous system is perhaps the most complex and elusive system in the known universe, let alone the human body, with an immensity of nerve cells that surpasses the number of stars in the Milky Way, and an exceedingly impressive number of connections between these cells, upwards of 100 trillion! This complexity allows for much of what we consider unique to the human experience: our advanced abilities to plan, create, reflect and communicate.
It is also integral to our ability to move! The nervous system facilitates our voluntary movements, from the fine motor skills of fastening a button, playing guitar or dancing ballet, to the gross movements of crawling, running, swimming or jumping for joy. The nervous system is also our window to experience, allowing our perception and interpretation of the five senses and our interaction and communication with the people in our lives.
Many of these abilities we take for granted, until we are immediately confronted with illness or trauma. Modern medicine, and even the specialty of neurology, is confounded by the complexity of the nervous system, such that the field cannot update textbooks quickly enough to incorporate the new discoveries. There is still so much to uncover and understand when it comes to neurological disorders. It seems imperative that our medical interventions for these conditions are both minimally invasive and clinically effective.
Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture
This brings me to the topic of acupuncture. Traditional Chinese medicine has offered the modern world the millennia-old practice of acupuncture, a low-risk therapy that engages the body’s natural mechanisms for correcting disorder and finding equilibrium across many systems. The understanding of how acupuncture works is in some ways similarly evasive in modern medicine to the study of how the brain works. However, acupuncture remains an increasingly popular form of healthcare in the West due to its clinically effective (and often enjoyable) nature for a variety of conditions, including musculoskeletal, neurological, gastrointestinal, reproductive, respiratory, mental/emotional and other conditions. (Check out these 10 additional benefits of acupuncture treatment.)
A more recent system of acupuncture has developed in the past 40 years that integrates traditional needling techniques modern neuroscience. It is known as scalp acupuncture, or neuro-acupuncture. This integrative system that utilizes the scalp as the exclusive needling location, is producing clinically remarkable results for debilitating neurological disorders, and is helping both neurologists and acupuncturists better understand the nature of the nervous system and the human body as a whole, and its incredible capacity to heal. (Learn more about the Chinese medical perspective and its applications.)
Chinese scalp acupuncture, more recently referred to as neuro-acupuncture, is a contemporary system of acupuncture that combines traditional Chinese needling techniques with a modern understanding of neurology and neuro-anatomy. The system uses a map of representative areas on the scalp that correspond to anatomical and functional regions of the brain, especially to regions of the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of the brain.
The acupuncture needles are placed obliquely in a comfortable layer of the scalp, in areas that correspond to the dysfunction being treated. The needles provide a stimulus for engaging that region of the brain, and can affect various nervous system functions throughout the body, including:
- Voluntary and involuntary movement
- Sensations of pain, temperature, touch and proprioception (sense of limb or joint position)
- Hearing/comprehension, speech, vision, balance and coordination
- and more
Stimulation of the brain via the scalp can even affect vascular dilation/constriction, and the function of the internal organs.
Neuro-acupuncture is clinically shown to be a highly effective treatment for numerous acute and chronic central nervous system disorders. These include many difficult conditions for which conventional treatment options are limited, including:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Traumatic brain/spinal cord injury
- Complex regional pain syndrome
- Restless leg syndrome
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- and more
It can be helpful for neurological symptoms for which the origin of the disorder is unknown, or even when symptoms lack a diagnosis. Much like other modalities of Chinese medicine, the treatment is based on the particular symptom picture of the individual and their constitution, rather than the blanket name of the disease.
Although many patients do experience immediate improvement in their symptoms during a single scalp acupuncture treatment, it is shown to be most clinically effective for lasting improvement of these conditions with regularity of treatment, often beginning initially with intervals of two times per week.
As the improvements remain stable for the full period between treatments, the interval can be extended to once per week, to every 10 days, to two weeks. As stable improvement or full recovery of the initial complaint is gained, patients can return for treatment on an as-needed basis or for monthly maintenance treatments. Even chronic and degenerative neurological conditions have shown to be responsive, with lasting results, to this therapeutic system.
About Kalle Skurla, LAc
Kalle completed a post-graduate certificate course in neuro-acupuncture with Drs. Jason and Linda Hao, DOM, of the non-profit organization the Neuro-acupuncture Institute, in New Mexico. For more information and links to published scientific articles on the topic, please visit www.neuro-acupuncture.org. Kalle integrates neuro-acupuncture techniques into her holistic acupuncture and herbal medicine practice at Heart Spring Health in Portland, OR.
To inquire directly with Kalle for specifics about this type of care, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule an appointment, please call (503)956-9396.
Source: Hao, Jason Jishun and Linda Lingzhi. Chinese Scalp Acupuncture. Boulder: Blue Poppy Press, 2011.