Spinal Cord Injury

Scalp acupuncture is a  form of acupuncture that has helped many people with spinal cord injury (SCI) and dysfunction.

Zhu’s Scalp Acupuncture

With ZSA, very short and fine needles are inserted obliquely into the scalp’s subaponeurotic layer.

Rather than using points along linear meridians, Zhu defined 19 two-dimensional areas, mapped to various body parts. There is no risk of damaging brain tissue or bleeding. Manipulation is characterized by forceful, small-amplitude needle lifting and thrusting.

An essential ZSA element is Daoyin, physical and mental activities simultaneously carried out to direct the qi to affected body areas. Daoyin activities include chest and abdominal breathing, mental relaxation, massage, joint movements, pushing, pulling, rolling, standing, etc. Daoyin activities are customized to individual patient needs at the time of the treatment

Critical Treatment Factors

Effectiveness is correlated with three factors:

TimeThe best therapeutic window is within three months of injury. Immediately after injury, the spinal cord goes through a shock period in which a cascade of events occur, including bleeding or ischemia, edema, and spontaneous lysis. The damage will gradually spread up and down the cord. Early intervention of ZSA (even day one) helps to control bleeding and edema, shorten the spinal shock period, and, consequently, minimize neurological damage.
If ZSA is initiated after three months, functional recovery accrues more slowly and at a lesser magnitude. It requires many times the effort to produce a fraction of the same result as in the first month.

DaoyinA vigorous, persistent, six-to-eight hour/day exercise regimen is recommended, including passive and active movements, breathing, and relaxation. Even when active motion is not visible, the patient’s intention or mental visualization is crucial. There is nothing mystical about using the mind. Basically, the brain initiates nerve signals to travel down the spinal cord, making attempts to find new neuronal pathways through the injury site. Once a visible movement is detected, the patient is asked to repeat the same pattern over and over to establish nervous-system memory. Our neural circuits turn off when they are not used, and, therefore, must be re-learned. By repetition, muscle strength increases and atrophy reverses.

Zhu encourages patients to use a standing frame early on, believing that standing has many benefits, including keeping the spine straight, preventing scoliosis, pressure sores, and bone loss; and improving pulmonary and cardiac functions.


Scalp acupunctureMany patients are discouraged by the slow progress they make following standard rehabilitation programs. The addition of ZSA to such programs accelerates progress. Zhu expresses this recovery process through an analogy: “patients with SCI are like people trapped inside a dark room. Those who stay motionless will remain in the room forever. Those who exercise are probing for an exit, but the door is closed. Scalp acupuncture acts like a key. It opens the door and allows light to shine through. However, the person still needs to move towards the door, and lift his legs over the threshold in order to step out into the sun. Otherwise, he is still confined in the room no matter how wide the door is opened.”

Scalp acupuncture has advantages over traditional body acupuncture. First, it is much more effective in treating neurological conditions. Second, scalp needles do not interfere with bodily movements, whereas body needles must be withdrawn to avoid bending or breaking. Overall, ZSA is not a mechanical procedure that can be quickly learned; results depend heavily on the practitioner’s skill level acquired from much training and practice.

Other ZSA Benefits

In addition to functional recovery, other benefits accrue from ZSA, including:

Relieving pain

ZSA is especially effective in relieving SCI-associated pain, without the adverse side effects of pharmaceuticals.

Managing spasticity

Zhu views spasticity as part of a normal recovery process that can increase muscle tone. However, if spasms become excessive, he can use ZSA and herbal medicine to control them, again avoiding adverse drug side effects

Reducing infections

ZSA and herbal medicine can help control SCI-associated urinary-tract and other infections.

Managing autonomic dysreflexia

Acupuncture has a bi-directional regulatory action on our system. For example, the same needle at a single acupuncture point can either increase or decrease blood pressure. It automatically adjusts to the body’s need to restore homeostasis

Promoting bladder & bowel control

Zhu believes that restored bladder and bowel control is a realistic outcome after ZSA, even for patients with clinically classified complete injuries. Again, earlier training enhances recovery

Maintaining better overall health

Our patients with SCI believe that they enjoy better health; have more energy, motivation, and positive outlook; stronger immunity; and less muscle atrophy


Zhu emphasizes hard work; patients know it means eight hours of serious work daily seven days a week. There is no short or easy way.

What defeats people is the lack of perseverance and long-term support. After the initial depression, most patients come to terms with their situation and live as their doctors have indicated. A small percentage are determined to fight the odds, but even these few may not be able to put up with the demands of the therapy, mundane routines, emotional cycles, and financial drain. As time goes by, they slow down on their rehabilitation efforts or allow themselves to be distracted by other life activities.

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