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Modern Brain Tonic: Scalp Acupuncture

Elias Lu, DTCM,

Acupuncture Physician

Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine

St. Petersburg, Florida

  • Scalp acupuncture combines ancient TCM principles with modern neurological science
  • Research has demonstrated the beneficial effects of scalp acupuncture on neurological and mental disorders
  • For some conditions, scalp acupuncture may be as effective as transcranial electromagnetic stimulation

What is Scalp Acupuncture?

Scalp acupuncture (SA) is a contemporary micro-system method of acupuncture that involves stimulating the areas on the scalp to treat neurological and neurodegenerative conditions. SA relies less on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and more on Western neuroanatomy.

 

Homunculus

SA is predicated on the somatotopic organization of the brain, which postulates that needling the skin of the scalp influences the underlying areas of the brain and, therefore, affects specific body systems and functions.

 

Several distinct scalp/brain areas are used in therapy:

  • Motor area, positioned in front of the central sulcus, is used to treat paralysis and muscle weakness.

  • Sensory area in the back of the central sulcus is used to treat sensory disorders, including pain and numbness.

  • Chorea-tremor zone, situated before the motor area, is used to treat involuntary movements such as tics and tremors.

  • Vestibular area, found on the side of the brain, is used for issues related to balance.

  • Speech areas, including Broca's area and Wernicke's area, are used to treat speech and language disorders.

  • Vision area, located at the back of the head, is used to treat visual disturbances.

 

Mechanisms of Action

The effects of scalp acupuncture on brain have been supported by data obtained from single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT), electroencephalography (EEG), fMRI, magnetoencephalography (MEG), and positron emission tomography (PET). Scalp acupuncture affects brain activity through several physiological processes, including:

 

Brain perfusion

Needle insertion in scalp increases blood flow in the corresponding brain areas lying beneath, improving oxygen and nutrient delivery to neurons.

 

Neuroplasticity

SA promotes neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. This is particularly beneficial in recovering from brain injuries and stroke.

 

Autonomic nervous system

Scalp acupuncture is yet another approach to activating the parasympathetic nervous system and, consequently, calming the mind, slowing down the heart rate, and inducing relaxation.

 

Neurotransmitters

Altered neuroendocrine activity is commonly found in patients with mental illness. By modulating the production and activity of brain neurohormones and neurotransmitters such as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), beta-endorphins, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) protein, dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), postsynaptic density-95 (PSD-95) protein, and endorphins, scalp acupuncture can improve mood, reduce pain, and enhance motor and cognitive functions.

 

Inflammation

Scalp acupuncture can reduce neuroinflammation, a common feature in many neurogenerative disorders.

 

Clinical Applications

SA is particularly noted for its efficacy in treating the following disorders:

 

Stroke rehabilitation

Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of scalp acupuncture in improving motor function, reducing spasticity, and accelerating the return of function in stroke patients.

 

Parkinson’s disease

By targeting the subcortical motor areas, SA can reduce tremors, stiffness, and improve mobility in patients with PD.

 

Multiple sclerosis

Scalp acupuncture is used to manage MS symptoms such as muscle weakness, numbness, and coordination issues.

 

Traumatic brain injury

Acupuncture may improve cognitive function, reduce headaches, and stabilize emotions in people with TBI.

 

Pain

Scalp acupuncture can be an effective treatment for chronic pain conditions, especially those with a neurological component.

 

Insomnia

Alterations in sleep quantity and quality could adversely affect all health conditions and severely diminish the quality of life. Scalp acupuncture is a powerful adjunctive therapy in insomnia.

 

Anxiety and depression

Multiple studies suggested that the effect of scalp acupuncture is comparable to conventional medication in treating depression, anxiety disorders, OCD, and PTSD.

 

Psychotic disorders

A meaningful improvement of sleep quality and extrapyramidal side effects has been observed in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder receiving SA.

 

Advantages of Scalp Acupuncture

Unlike “regular” body acupuncture, scalp acupuncture does not require undressing or lying down on a table: treatment can be done while patients are resting in a chair. Additionally, scalp needling is relatively painless due to the low tactile sensitivity of the scalp.

 

Safety

The needles are placed obliquely into the soft tissue of the scalp. Since the skull protects the brain, there is no risk injuring the brain itself. Scalp acupuncture is a very safe treatment.

 

How Soon Will I See Results?

The speed and degree of functional recovery vary with the individual and the recency and severity of damage. An acupuncture session lasts between 25 and 45 minutes. Two to three treatments a week are recommended. Most patients should expect to see some progress within a couple of weeks.

 

Where Can I Try Scalp Acupuncture?

Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine in St. Petersburg, Florida offers a variety of acupuncture therapies, including scalp acupuncture. Please contact Dr. Lu at 727-252-6060.

References

Jin, G. Y., Jin, L. L., Jin, B. X., Zheng, J., He, B. J., & Li, S. J. (2023). Neural control of cerebral blood flow: scientific basis of scalp acupuncture in treating brain diseases. Frontiers in neuroscience, 17, 1210537. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2023.1210537

 

Liu, H., Jiang, Y., Wang, N., Yan, H., Chen, L., Gao, J., Zhang, J., Qu, S., Liu, S., Liu, G., Huang, Y., & Chen, J. (2021). Scalp acupuncture enhances local brain regions functional activities and functional connections between cerebral hemispheres in acute ischemic stroke patients. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007), 304(11), 2538–2551. https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.24746

 

Li, M. Y., Dai, X. H., Yu, X. P., Zou, W., Teng, W., Liu, P., Yu, X. Y., An, Q., & Wen, X. (2022). Scalp Acupuncture Protects Against Neuronal Ferroptosis by Activating The p62-Keap1-Nrf2 Pathway in Rat Models of Intracranial Haemorrhage. Journal of molecular neuroscience : MN, 72(1), 82–96. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12031-021-01890-y

 

Wang, Y. F., Chen, W. Y., Lee, C. T., Shen, Y. Y., Lan, C. C., Liu, G. T., Kuo, C. Y., Chen, M. L., & Hsieh, P. C. (2022). Combinations of scalp acupuncture location for the treatment of post-stroke hemiparesis: A systematic review and Apriori algorithm-based association rule analysis. Frontiers in neuroscience, 16, 956854. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2022.956854

 

Wang, J., Tian, L., Zhang, Z., Yuan, B., Zhang, T., Li, X., Jiang, H., & Du, X. (2020). Scalp-acupuncture for patients with hemiplegic paralysis of acute ischaemic stroke: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Journal of traditional Chinese medicine = Chung i tsa chih ying wen pan, 40(5), 845–854. https://doi.org/10.19852/j.cnki.jtcm.2020.05.015

Picture of a confident acupuncturist

Dr. Elias Lu, DTCM is an acupuncture physician with Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine. In practice for over 25 years, he integrates traditional Chinese medicine with modern functional therapies to help people with chronic pain, trauma, neurodegenerative disorders, anxiety, depression, and many other life's challenges.

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