How Does Acupuncture Help People with TBI?

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[Dr. Heechin Chae] Acupuncture is fascinating and mysterious, like the brain. We still don't know how acupuncture works. All we know is that it does work. It's been around 4,000 or 5,000 years starting in China, but there is a lot of research that is being done in acupuncture to see how it works. What's fascinating is that acupuncture treatment does affect the neurochemical function of the brain. If you stick certain needles in the body, acupuncture points, and take a radiographic picture of the brain, you see these changes before and after the treatment. We do know that acupuncture treatment does affect the pattern in the brain function, or at least temporarily change the way the brain operates. I think that's where the benefit of acupuncture happens in TBI. As I said, a TBI concussion is a temporary change in the normal brain function, so what a better way to use acupuncture to try to reset or at least affect it positively. At least in my experience acupuncture has been used just for that. Even for acute TBI concussion cases I use acupuncture to try to change some of the brain pattern that results in anxiety and results in a sense of fear, pain. Those are the things that can continue to stimulate the brain. Acupuncture to me, at least in the acute phase, I'm trying to calm the brain down or at least relax the brain, because as I said earlier, relaxation is key to recovery from TBI. I use that. For later cases acupuncture is mostly for symptoms. If it's for headaches, I think acupuncture has been shown to really help a lot with the headaches. It does help PTSD-related symptoms, especially anxiety. I didn't know this, but people I was treating with TBI and PTSD I was treating for headaches, and they all say, "I feel better. I feel relaxed."
Posted on BrainLine September 10, 2013. Reviewed July 25, 2018.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough, Lara Collins, and Ashley Gilleland, BrainLine.

About the author: Heechin Chae, MD

Heechin Chae, MD was appointed site director of DVBIC at Fort Belvoir and chief of the Traumatic Brain Injury Department at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in 2011. He will become the director of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence satellite at Fort Belvoir in 2013.

Heechin Chae