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5 Ways Acupuncture Aids in Concussion Recovery

Updated: Feb 25

two people facing each other, gears turning in their heads

When it comes to concussion recovery, treatment plans need to take into account the wide variety of symptoms and issues unique to each individuals injury.  Acupuncture has a regulatory, or modulatory effect on a person’s physiology and is a great tool that can be used as part of a concussion recovery program for many reasons, including the following:

1. Blood Flow to the Brain

Acupuncture modulates blood flow to the brain. Following a concussion, it is well documented that blood flow to the brain, and within certain regions of the brain can be affected following a concussion, depending on the individual. Research looking at changes in cerebral blood flow following acupuncture have shown that acupuncture can increase blood flow through several main arteries supplying the brain. Acupuncture can also improve cerebral glucose metabolism, a process that is often dysregulated following concussion.

2. Sympathetic Dominance & Chronic Anxiety

Many people after a concussion experience an increase in sympathetic nervous system activity that can contribute to symptoms such as irritability, insomnia, chronic anxiety, headaches, increased pain, sweating, and light sensitivity. Acupuncture can help balance the autonomic nervous system and tip the scales towards less sympathetic activity and more parasympathetic activity, helping to alleviate these symptoms.

3. Pain Relief

Following a concussion many people have increased frequency and severity of headaches, migraines, neck pain, and muscle tension. Acupuncture is an excellent therapy to manage pain from headaches, and neck tension. It can also reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.

4. Relief from Nausea

Nausea is a common symptom following concussion, seen in both the acute stage and in post-concussion syndrome. Nausea may be present as a result of vestibular imbalances causing vertigo or dizziness, increased motion sensitivity, eye movement disorders, or a dysregulation of autonomic nervous system dysfunction. Acupuncture can help reduce the severity and frequency of nausea.

5. Improving Sensory Mapping

The brain has maps of the head, neck, and body in several different areas, including the parietal lobe and cerebellum. Following a concussion these maps can become damaged or “blurred” together. In the case of whiplash that often occurs in conjunction with head trauma, the map of the neck in the brain can becomes blurred. When the brain has decreased awareness of sensory input carrying information about neck position and neck movements, this causes problems with sensory integration. Poor sensory integration leads to chronic neck and upper back pain, neck stiffness, headaches, and even increases the risk of future concussions.

Acupuncture helps to activate the parietal cortex and increases the amount of proprioceptive information that travels up the spinal cord to the brain. In doing so, it can improve the sensory maps in the brain. This leads to improved blood flow to the areas that are injured, and allows the brain to provide the proper non-volitional shunt stability to areas of the spine and back.

About the Author:

Dr. Ayla Wolf DAOM is a Doctor of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine specializing in concussions and neurological disorders. She is an Associate Professor of Acupuncture for the Carrick Institute and an internationally recognized speaker. She is a regular contributor to Acupuncture Today and Brain Health Magazine.

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