A new study shows acupuncture may facilitate spinal injury recovery, and the results have nothing to do with balance or chi, but everything to do with nerve cells.
A 2003 study showed acupuncture - a traditional Chinese medicine that treats pain by inserting and manipulating long, thin needles into various points of the body - can improve the sensory and motor functions of people with spinal cord injuries.
More recently, researchers at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea, tried to find out why. The study's results were published in the most recent edition of Neurobiology of Disease.
The researchers damaged the spines of 75 rats. One third were treated with acupuncture.
After 35 days, the rats that received the needle treatment stood and walked better than those that did not.
What's more, the acupuncture-treated rats had less nerve cell death and lower levels of the protein that causes inflammation.
The researchers hypothesize that the needles cause a stress response in the body that lessens inflammation. The inflammation that occurs after spinal cord injuries causes nerve cell death and lessens the chance of recovery.
The study may have implications for spinal injury treatment in humans, though more research is needed.