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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2011, Article ID 428108, 8 pages
Review Article

Acupuncture's Effects in Treating the Sequelae of Acute and Chronic Spinal Cord Injuries: A Review of Allopathic and Traditional Chinese Medicine Literature

Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic, 4500 San Pablo Road, Jacksonville, Florida 32224, USA

Received 27 July 2008; Accepted 12 January 2009

Copyright © 2011 Peter T. Dorsher and Peter M. McIntosh. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Each year, there are an estimated 12 000 individuals who sustain a spinal cord injury (SCI) in the United States. Improved understanding of the pathophysiology of SCI and its sequelae has over the past 50 years led to the development of medical treatments (especially urologic) that have enhanced short- and long-term survival from these injuries. The prevalence of individuals with SCI in this country is ~250 000 individuals; and beyond the incalculable personal consequences of these devastating neurologic injuries, substantial direct and indirect societal costs result from the sequelae of SCI including paralysis, sensory loss, chronic pain, decubiti and bladder and/or bowel incontinence. The purpose of this treatise is to review the allopathic and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) literature available through MEDLINE, PubMed and eCAM search engines that discuss the potential uses of acupuncture to treat acute and chronic spinal cord injuries and their sequelae, and present the neurophysiologic mechanisms for acupuncture's beneficial effects. There is evidence that use of electroacupuncture in acute SCI may significantly improve long-term neurologic recovery from these injuries both in terms of motor, sensory and bowel/bladder function with essentially no risk. Acupuncture may even improve neurourologic function in individuals with chronic SCI, and help with management with chronic pain associated with these injuries.