Review of Clinical Applications of Scalp Acupuncture for Paralysis: An Excerpt From Chinese Scalp Acupuncture

Glob Adv Health Med. 2012 Mar; 1(1): 102–121.
Published online 2012 Mar 1. doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2012.1.1.017
PMCID: PMC3833481
PMID: 24278807

Review of Clinical Applications of Scalp Acupuncture for Paralysis: An Excerpt From Chinese Scalp Acupuncture

Jason Jishun Hao, DOM, MTCM, MBA, United Statescorresponding author and Linda Lingzhi Hao, CA, PhD, United States

Abstract

Chinese scalp acupuncture is a contemporary acupuncture technique integrating traditional Chinese needling methods with Western medical knowledge of representative areas of the cerebral cortex. It has been proven to be a most effective technique for treating acute and chronic central nervous system disorders. Scalp acupuncture often produces remarkable results with just a few needles and usually brings about immediate improvement, sometimes taking only several seconds to a minute.

Acupuncture, a therapeutic technique of Oriental Medicine, can be traced back more than 2500 years. Throughout its long history, acupuncture has evolved as its own unique traditional medicine. By embracing newly developed knowledge and technology, the profession continues to create additional methods of treatment. Techniques such as electrical and laser acupuncture and even new acupuncture points are currently being developed. We believe scalp acupuncture, which integrates Western medicine with Traditional Chinese Medicine, to be the most significant development that Chinese acupuncture has made in the past 60 years.

Key Words: Chinese scalp acupuncture, paralysis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, dysphagia, brain injury, Bell’s palsy

INTRODUCTION

Chinese scalp acupuncture is a contemporary acupuncture technique integrating traditional Chinese needling methods with Western medical knowledge of representative areas of the cerebral cortex. It has been proven to be a most effective technique for treating acute and chronic central nervous system disorders. Scalp acupuncture often produces remarkable results with just a few needles and usually brings about immediate improvement, sometimes taking only several seconds to a minute.

HISTORY

Acupuncture, a therapeutic technique of Oriental Medicine, can be traced back more than 2500 years. Throughout its long history, acupuncture has evolved as its own unique traditional medicine. By embracing newly developed knowledge and technology, the profession continues to create additional methods of treatment. Techniques such as electrical and laser acupuncture and even new acupuncture points are currently being developed. We believe scalp acupuncture, which integrates Western medicine with Traditional Chinese Medicine, to be the most significant development that Chinese acupuncture has made in the past 60 years.

Scalp acupuncture is a well-researched natural science and incorporates extensive knowledge of both the past and present. Years of clinical experience have contributed to its recent discoveries and developments, but treatment of disorders by needling the scalp can also be traced back to early civilizations. In 100 BCE, the first Chinese acupuncture text, Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine) described the relationship between the brain and the body in physiology, pathology, and treatment as it was understood at that time, and citations of acupuncture treatments on the head can be found throughout classical Chinese literature.

The modern system of scalp acupuncture in China has been explored and developed since the 1950s. Various famous physicians introduced Western neurophysiology into the field of acupuncture and explored correlations between the brain and human body. In these early years of its development, there were several hypotheses for mapping stimulation areas. For example, Fan Yunpeng mapped the scalp area as a prone homunculus with the head toward the forehead and the legs toward the occipital area.1 Taking a dividing line that connects the left ear to the vertex to the right ear, Tang Song-yan proposed two homunculi on the scalp, one in prone position and another in supine position.2 Zhang Ming-jiu’s and Yu Zhi-shun’s scalp locations are formulated by penetrating regular head points, and Zhu Ming-qing created several special therapeutic bands on the scalp.3,4

It took acupuncture practitioners in China roughly 20 years before they accepted a central theory that incorporated brain functions into Chinese medicine principles. Dr. Jiao Shun-fa, a neurosurgeon in Shan Xi province, is the recognized founder of Chinese scalp acupuncture. He systematically undertook the scientific exploration and charting of scalp correspondences starting in 1971. Dr. Jiao combined a modern understanding of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology with traditional techniques of Chinese acupuncture to develop a radical new tool for affecting the functions of the central nervous system. Dr. Jiao’s discovery was investigated, acknowledged, and formally recognized by the acupuncture profession in a national acupuncture textbook, Acupuncture and Moxibustion, in 1977.5 Ten years later, at the First International Acupuncture and Moxibustion Conference held in Beijing, China, scalp acupuncture began to gain international recognition. At the time, scalp acupuncture was primarily used to treat paralysis and aphasia due to stroke. Since then, the techniques and applications of this science have been expanded and standardized through further research and experience. Many studies on scalp acupuncture have shown positive results in treating various disorders of the central nervous system. The most outstanding results are with paralysis and pain management in very difficult neurological disorders.

CHARACTERISTICS

Scalp acupuncture, sometimes also called head acupuncture, is a modern innovation and development. Just like any new technology and science, the discovery, development, and clinical application of scalp acupuncture has undergone a period of challenge because it falls outside some fundamental theories of Chinese medicine as well as being a new concept in the Western world. As a contemporary acupuncture technique, many of the specific treatments put forward in this book are also new, at least for a work that discusses Western medical concepts along with Chinese ones.

There are three new principles in this presentation of scalp acupuncture, however, which are of central importance and which depart considerably from traditional Chinese medicine. The first of these principles is the location of scalp acupuncture areas based on the reflex somatotopic system organized on the surface of the scalp in Western medicine. These do not relate to the theory of channels in Chinese medicine and are an essentially new type of conception. Second, because the technological innovation and invention of scalp acupuncture is fairly new, positive results can only reasonably be achieved by practitioners who have studied it; even an established doctor in China cannot perform it without at least seeing a demonstration of it. Third, scalp acupuncture consists of needling areas rather than points on the skull according to the brain’s neuro-anatomy and neurophysiology. Unlike traditional acupuncture, where one needle is inserted into a single point, in scalp acupuncture needles are subcutaneously inserted into whole sections of various zones. These zones are the specific areas through which the functions of the central nervous system, endocrine system, and channels are transported to and from the surface of the scalp. From a Western perspective, these zones correspond to the cortical areas of the cerebrum and cerebellum responsible for central nervous system functions such as motor activity, sensory input, vision, speech, hearing, and balance.

In clinical practice, acupuncture treatments are typically based not just on a systematic or rigidly applied system, but also on highly individualized philosophical constructs and intuitive impressions. The practitioner has a wide amount of discretion on the use of points and techniques. Therefore, even when treating the same complaint, the method of treatment chosen by one practitioner can vary significantly from another. Scalp acupuncture, on the other hand, applies more of a Western medicine approach, where patients with the same diagnosis usually receive the same or very similar treatment.

The scalp somatotopic system seems to operate as a miniature transmitter-receiver in direct contact with the central nervous system and endocrine system. By stimulating those reflex areas, acupuncture can have direct effects on the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, thalamo-cortical circuits, thalamus, hypothalamus, and pineal body. The scalp’s unique neurological and endocrinal composition makes it an ideal external stimulating field for internal activities of the brain. Scalp acupuncture treats and prevents disease through the proper insertion of needles into scalp areas. It is accompanied by special manipulations to regulate and harmonize the functional activities of the brain and body, as well as to restore and strengthen the functions of the body, organs, and tissues.

Scalp acupuncture successfully integrates the essence of ancient Chinese needling techniques with the essence of neurology in Western medicine. Studying its results in clinical practice can also add clarity to ambiguities found in the practice of neurophysiology and pathology. In terms of Western medicine, it contributes significantly to the treatment of central nervous system disorders. In complementary and alternative medicine, it contributes new understanding to both theory and practice. Scalp acupuncture can successfully treat many problems of the central nervous system such as paralysis and aphasia, for which Western medicine has little to offer.

APPLICATIONS

Scalp acupuncture areas are frequently used in the rehabilitation of paralysis due to stroke, multiple sclerosis, automobile accident, and Parkinson’s disease. These areas may also be effectively employed for pain management, especially that caused by the central nervous system such as phantom pain, complex regional pain, and residual limb pain. It has been proven to have very effective results in treating aphasia, loss of balance, loss of hearing, dizziness and vertigo. The disorders covered in this book are commonly found in Western clinics. This book will show the scope of scalp acupuncture in treating many kinds of disorders and diseases, based on years of clinical experience. Scalp acupuncture not only treats disorders, but also can prevent illness and help to build the immune system. It can help increase energy, preserve youth, and promote longevity. The technique of scalp acupuncture is systematic, logical, easy to understand, and easy to practice. The techniques introduced in this book can be easily mastered and performed even by people with minimal acupuncture experience. Scalp acupuncture is more easily accessible, less expensive, entails less risk, can yield quicker responses, and causes fewer side effects than many Western treatments. Practitioners should consider scalp acupuncture as either the primary approach or a complementary approach when treating disorders of the central nervous system and endocrine system.

Although acupuncture and moxibustion have been used to prevent and treat disease in China for thousands of years, scalp acupuncture is a modern technique with a short history. In the West, many healthcare practitioners are familiar with acupuncture for pain management, while scalp acupuncture as a main tool for rehabilitation is a relatively new concept. It is still not easy for medical practitioners and the public to accept the reality that acupuncture can help in the recovery of paralysis, aphasia, and ataxia, while Western medical technology does not so far have effective treatments for those conditions. It is not surprising for a Western physician to claim that it is a coincidence if a patient recovers from paralysis after acupuncture. Therefore, there is an urgent need for Chinese scalp acupuncture to be studied and perfected, and extensive research done to fully explore its potential and utility. Chinese scalp acupuncture has been taught and used sparingly in the West and there are few books published on the subject. With such little information available, it has been almost impossible to apply this technique widely and with confidence. This book supplies all the needed information to practice scalp acupuncture.

In addition to more than 29 years of clinical practice of scalp acupuncture, we have taught scores of seminars for both practitioners of Chinese medicine and Western physicians practicing acupuncture in the USA and Europe, including eight years of seminars sponsored by UCLA and Stanford University. This book contains many amazing case reports from our years of clinical practice and teaching as examples of what is possible using these techniques. While it is not our intention to assert that scalp acupuncture is always effective with every patient, these clinical reports make a compelling case for its wider use. For example, in a report about the scalp acupuncture treatment of seven veterans with phantom limb pain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2006, the results were as follows. After only one treatment per patient, three of the seven veterans instantly felt no further phantom pain, three others reported having very little pain, and only one patient showed no improvement. Such results warrant continued research into other possible uses for scalp acupuncture to alleviate human suffering.

During our lectures around the world, we are often asked why, if it is so effective in treating disorders of the central nervous system, has scalp acupuncture not spread to the whole world and been applied widely in practice? First, up to now there has been no authoritative and practical text for scalp acupuncture in English. Second, there is a very limited number of highly experienced teachers. Third, manual manipulation is very difficult to learn and master without detailed description and demonstration. And fourth, the names of stimulation areas are different from the standardized names given by the Standard International Acupuncture Nomenclature of the World Health Organization, Section 3.6 on Scalp Acupuncture, in Geneva in 1989.

Furthermore, there have been few reports or articles published on treatment by scalp acupuncture. Most existing textbooks either lack detailed information or only introduce some new research on the topic. From their teachers and textbooks, students can learn only general information about scalp acupuncture and its locations and clinical applications. Therefore, many practitioners in both the West and the East are only mildly aware of this new technique, and few apply it in their practices. There is a high demand for a book that can provide teachers and students with useful knowledge and offer proper references to experienced practitioners. We feel confident that this book will meet these requirements.

Part One of this book is designed to give practitioners fundamental knowledge of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and pathology in Western medicine. Chapter One provides a review for practitioners with a Western medical background and an adequate introduction for practitioners new to this material. The next chapter is a review of essential theories of Chinese medicine related to scalp acupuncture including the Four Seas theory and the Four Qi Street theory that provide readers with a systematic explanation of function and indication based on Chinese medicine. Chapter Three describes in detail locations and techniques of scalp acupuncture in order to offer a wide range of useful information for teachers, experienced or new practitioners, and students. Readers may notice that the indications for treatment for each scalp area are many in order to demonstrate the variety of disorders that can benefit from scalp acupuncture therapy. Finally, Chapter Four presents a large number of treatment strategies and techniques with color figures clearly illustrating the location of stimulation areas.

In Part Two of our book, we discuss in detail many common central nervous disorders. All of these have proven to respond well to scalp acupuncture treatment. Forty-five successful case histories are given from our clinical experience. In these case descriptions, we explain in practical detail how to apply the needling techniques in order to obtain optimal results. These cases demonstrate practical application of the principles of scalp acupuncture. Each one reflects our experience, thought processes, strategies, and special techniques for treating patients suffering from disorders of the central nervous system. Wherever possible or useful, other modalities or techniques to enhance the scalp acupuncture treatments are included with the case histories, which demonstrates the integration of Chinese medical theory and application into the clinical practice of scalp acupuncture. A few “miracle” cases are presented in this book, such as the woman who was completely cured of quadriplegia after only two scalp acupuncture treatments and a man who was cured of aphasia after just five. While more the exception than the rule, such cases demonstrate not only how remarkable these new techniques are, but also provide the readers with examples of real clinical practice using them.

The information presented in the book is primarily a synthesis of two components of knowledge of scalp acupuncture. First, we were among an early group of people who studied these techniques and were very fortunate to have opportunities to learn it directly from famous scalp acupuncture specialists including Jiao Shun-fa, the brilliant founder of Chinese scalp acupuncture, Yu Zhi-shun, a well-known professor in scalp acupuncture development, and Sun Shentian, an outstanding professor in scalp acupuncture research. Second, we have been teaching, practicing, and researching it for 29 years, both in China and in the US and Europe, and have accumulated extensive and valuable experience, which has given us insight into the needs and questions of acupuncture practitioners in Western clinical settings. Through this book, we hope to contribute this knowledge and experience to current and future students, practitioners, and teachers, and that it will serve as a stepping stone for further teaching, practice, research, and development of Chinese scalp acupuncture.

PART TWO

Common Clinical Applications of Scalp Acupuncture

CHAPTER FIVE

Paralysis

Paralysis refers to complete or partial loss of muscle strength and voluntary movement for one or more muscles. Paralysis can be localized, generalized, or it may follow a certain pattern. Paralysis is most often caused by damage to the nervous system, especially the brain and spinal cord. Such damage may be due to stroke, trauma with nerve injury, poliomyelitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, botulism, spinal bifida, and multiple sclerosis. Paralysis due to stroke, multiple sclerosis, and traumatic injury of the brain or spinal cord are the most commonly seen problems in our practice. Most paralyses caused by nervous system damage are constant in nature. There are forms of periodic paralysis, including sleep paralysis, which are caused by other factors. Paralysis can be accompanied by a loss of feeling in the affected area if there is sensory nerve damage as well.

The chain of nerve cells that runs from the brain through the spinal cord out to the muscles is called the motor pathway. Normal muscle function requires intact connections all along this motor pathway. Damage at any level often interrupts the brain’s ability to control muscle movements resulting in paralysis. Paralysis almost always causes a change in muscle tone. Paralyzed muscles may be flaccid, flabby, and without appreciable tone, or may be spastic, tight, and with abnormally high tone that increases when the muscle is moved. Paralysis may affect an individual muscle but it usually affects an entire body region. The distribution of weakness is an important clue to locate the level of nerve damage that caused the paralysis.

The types of paralysis are classified by region. Monoplegia is impairment in the motor function of only one limb. Diplegia affects the same body region on both sides of the body (both arms, for example). Hemiplegia, affects one side of the body. Paraplegia is impairment in motor function of both legs and the trunk. Quadriplegia, also known as tetraplegia, is paralysis with partial or total loss of use of all limbs and the torso. Paralysis is also divided into four types in neurological practice, namely upper motor neuron paralysis, lower motor neuron paralysis, paralysis due to neuromuscular transmission diseases, and the paralysis caused by muscular diseases.

To test the strength of each muscle group and record it in a systematic fashion is important before and after scalp acupuncture treatment for paralyzed patients. It can help localize a lesion to a particular cortical region and spinal cord level, evaluate scalp acupuncture treatment, and give the patient encouragement when there is subtle improvement that the patient might not notice. When evaluating a patient with paralysis, the practitioner should follow a systematic approach that includes inspection of muscle, palpation and percussion of muscle, manual muscle strength testing, and assessment of motor function. It is useful to pair the testing of each muscle group immediately with the testing of its contra-lateral counterpart to enhance detection of any asymmetries and record detailed information of any changes.

Types Of Paralysis Classified By Region

monoplegia is impairment in the motor function of only one limb
diplegia affects the same body region on both sides of the body (both arms, for example)
hemiplegia affects one side of the body
paraplegia is impairment in motor function of both legs and the trunk
quadriplegia, also known as tetraplegia, is paralysis with partial or total loss of use of all limbs and the torso

Muscle strength is often rated at six levels on a scale of 0 out of 5 to 5 out of 5.6,a The level of 0 out of 5 shows no muscular contraction, which means complete paralysis; the level of 1 out of 5 shows some muscular contraction, but no limb or body movement; the level of 2 out of 5 shows limb movement is possible but not against gravity, which means the limb can only move in its horizontal plane; the level of 3 out of 5 shows limb movement is possible against gravity but not against resistance by the examiner; the level of 4 out of 5 shows limb movement is possible against some resistance by the examiner but it is still weak compared to a normal limb; and the level of 5 out of 5 shows normal muscular strength, which means complete recovery from paralysis.

Scalp acupuncture is frequently used in rehabilitation of paralysis due to stroke, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury. It has been proven effective in treating any type of paralysis, sometimes taking only one to two treatments for an amazing amount of recovery. We have treated hundreds of paralyzed patients with remarkable results in the US, China, and Europe, allowing many patients to leave their wheel-chairs, walkers, crutches, and canes behind.712

Since scalp acupuncture is a modern technique with just 39 years of history, much more research needs to be done so that its potential can be fully explored and utilized and more paralyzed patients helped to regain a normal life.

STROKE

Stroke is an acute neurological disease in which the blood supply to the brain is interrupted causing brain cells to die or be seriously damaged, thus impairing brain functions. Stroke is classified into two major categories, ischemic and hemorrhagic. In an ischemic stroke, a blood vessel becomes occluded and the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked. Ischemic stroke is divided into thrombosis stroke, embolic stroke, systemic hypoperfusion, and venous thrombosis. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds. The bleeding vessel can no longer carry the blood to its target tissue and interrupts the brain’s blood supply. Hemorrhagic stroke is commonly divided into two types, intracerebral and subarachnoid.

The symptoms of stroke depend on the type of stroke and the area of the brain affected. These include weakness, paralysis or abnormal sensations in limbs or face, aphasia, apraxia, altered vision, problems with hearing, taste, or smell, vertigo, disequilibrium, altered coordination, difficulty swallowing, and mental and emotional changes. Some stroke patients may have loss of consciousness, headache, and vomiting at the onset. If the symptoms disappear within several minutes up to a maximum of 24 hours, the diagnosis is transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a mini or brief stroke. Those symptoms are warning signs and a large proportion of patients with TIA may develop full strokes in the future.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart attack and cancer and it is a leading cause of adult disability. It is necessary for stroke patients to receive emergency treatment with Western medicine and it is important to identify a stroke as early as possible because patients who are treated earlier are more likely to survive and become less disabled. Stroke survivors usually have some degree of sequelae of symptoms depending primarily on the location in the brain involved and the amount of brain tissue damaged. Disability affects about 75% of stroke survivors and it can affect patients physically, mentally, emotionally, or a combination of all three.

Because each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, a stroke affecting one side of the brain results in neurological symptoms on the other side of the body. For example, if stroke occurs in the motor area of the right side of the brain, the left side of the body may show weakness or paralysis. Although there is no cure for stroke, most stroke patients now have a good chance for survival and recovery. When stroke patients pass the acute stage they should start rehabilitation as soon as possible. Stroke rehabilitation therapy helps patients return to normal life as much as possible by regaining and relearning skills of everyday living such as speaking or walking. Treatment may include acupuncture, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and massage.

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