Concussions create serious health concerns at any age. They generate real physical and emotional pain. They hinder your daily life. Concussions or traumatic brain injuries have myriad symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, severe and mild headaches, sensitivity to noise or light, cognitive issues, memory loss, difficulty concentrating or focusing, insomnia, anxiety, depression and possible personality changes.
Whether a concussion occurs from a soccer or football injury or a car accident, it is a traumatic brain injury.
The U.S. military has been using acupuncture as a means to decrease the symptoms of concussions successfully since 2008. Soldiers who received concussions from improvised explosive device (homemade bomb) explosions often experience pounding headaches, severe insomnia, dizziness, sensitivity to light, and mood changes.
The reports of acupuncture used for these soldiers show remarkable results in overcoming the insomnia, headaches and, eventually, the rest of the symptoms.
How Does East Asian Medicine Approach Concussion Treatment?
East Asian medicine, often referred to simply as acupuncture, approaches concussion by assessing what pattern of a traumatic brain injury the individual has. In East Asian medicine, not all concussions are created equal. The severity of the concussion and the cluster of symptoms will relate to the individual’s health before the concussion.
For instance, if the individual has a poor diet consisting mainly of potato chips, soda and other fast food before getting a concussion, then they are more likely to have certain symptoms and severity of symptoms in comparison to someone who ate non-processed foods and slept regularly before receiving a concussion.
This is an oversimplification, but I hope you see my point. No two people are created equal, and thus, no two concussions are alike.
Using acupuncture for concussions involves inserting fine, solid, sterile acupuncture needles into specific acupuncture points to address the individual’s symptoms. There are over 360 acupuncture points on the human body, and each one has a specific clinical indication. Some points soothe anxiety and relieve depression, others reduce the feeling of pain, and still others help improve brain function.
A trained acupuncturist or East Asian medicine practitioner, as they are known in Washington state, has a master’s degree in East Asian medicine and knows how to combine acupuncture points to address the most pressing symptoms of a concussion. Acupuncturists will often feel your pulse at each wrist, look at your tongue, and check facial complexion to get further information about your overall health. This will help to guide acupuncture-point selection.
With concussions — and almost any injury — acupuncture needles are first inserted at the opposite end of the body from the injury. With a concussion, that means the ankles, tops of the feet, and hands.
The theory behind this is that points farthest away from the site of injury have the strongest influence on that injury. Specific points on the feet and hands are clinically indicated for use with various conditions that happen on the face, head, neck and shoulders. These points have been passed down in writing for a few thousand years.
The other theory behind using these far points is that they begin the process of circulating blood, energy and neurotransmitters before you approach the injury. Going straight to the site of an injury without using this protocol is akin to going over to a neighbor’s house for dinner and using a battering ram to open their door, instead of knocking. It is just plain polite to knock first.
The last acupuncture points that would be used in a session to treat a concussion may be scalp points or points on the neck near the base of the skull.
The Key to Success
The key to achieving the best outcome with acupuncture when dealing with a concussion is to seek treatment with an acupuncturist as soon as possible. The more quickly an individual receives acupuncture after a concussion, the faster they will get relief, results and recovery.
Concussion symptoms can seem harmless, at first. They mask themselves as mild cognitive dysfunction, mild memory loss, and difficulty concentrating, besides the more obvious headaches, dizziness, etc. If not properly treated, these symptoms can linger for months and years.
It is worth it to seek medical advice quickly when a concussion is suspected.
While acupuncture can help reduce the severity of — or help to completely relieve — the signs and symptoms of a concussion, it is still very important to continue to be seen by a medical doctor and/or physical therapist who specializes in evaluation and care of concussion patients.