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The Use of Acupuncture to Decrease Chronic Neuralgia in Patients with Spinal Cord Injuries

10 August 2013


Background: Individuals who sustain a spinal cord injury (SCI) often experience chronic neuralgia that is poorly remedied by modern medicine. When pharmaceutics are used to treat the pain, the patient usually suffers from a high percentage of side effects. Individuals who already are dealing with a life changing event such as an SCI can become highly frustrated with a new onset of poorly understood pain. The purpose of this review is to search available literature in order to understand what part acupuncture can play to alleviate some of this pain.

Methods: An exhaustive literature search using CINAHL, Medline-OVID, EMR Multifile and Web of Science was conducted that used the specific search terms: spinal cord injury, neuralgia and acupuncture therapy. Eligibility criteria included English language only articles, studies conducted within the last 15 years and studies only conducted on humans. Of the pertinent articles found in the above search engines, bibliographies were examined and any studies that directly looked at the use of acupuncture as treatment for chronic nerve pain in SCIs were included.

Results: Two studies met inclusion criteria and were included in this systematic review. A within-subjects study with 22 individuals showed a 46% improvement in pain after treatment, however 27% of the study’s participants experienced pain increase at follow up. A sequential controlled design study involving 30 participants showed 40% of the acupuncture patients and 7% of the massage patients reporting a positive outcome at follow up.

Conclusion: Acupuncture is not a dependable treatment for chronic neuralgia in individuals who have sustained an SCI. Some evidence supports its use for up to moderate pain relief in a fair portion of individuals. However, due to the lack of adverse side effects and high compliance rates associated with acupuncture, it is a reasonable option for pain management either on its own or partnered with a pharmaceutical treatment without worrying about drug interactions. More research needs to be conducted on what causes chronic neuralgia as well what can be effective treatments.

Keywords: Spinal cord injury, neuralgia, acupuncture therapy


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