Acupuncture in Spinal Cord Injury Subjects

  • End date
    Dec 31, 2023
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of Maryland, Baltimore
Updated on 11 May 2022
pain relief
chronic pain
electrical stimulation
spinal cord
neuropathic pain
spinal cord disorder
recovery of function


Of the more than 250,000 Americans with severe spinal cord injury (SCI), 42,000 are military veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest single network of SCI care providers in the nation. Patients with SCI experience functional disabilities as well as chronic pain. Studies show that individuals with SCI report pain refractory to conventional treatments. Civilian and veteran patients with SCI have associated pain with impairments in physical and cognitive function, sleep, employment, social relationships, community re-integration and quality of life. In a survey of individuals with SCI, those who used acupuncture experienced a reduction of pain symptoms lasting hours after treatment, with 27.3% reporting pain relief for days. A pilot study on the use of auricular acupuncture for neuropathic pain associated with SCI showed a greater reduction of pain as measured by the Numerical Rating Scale (NRS). A recent review of randomized controlled trials regarding the use of acupuncture in SCI found that only two of sixteen included studies were of high quality. There was limited evidence for the use of acupuncture in motor functional recovery, bladder function recovery, and in pain control related to SCI. Further high quality studies are needed. This proposal is for a phase II randomized clinical trial.



Our overarching hypothesis is that acupuncture is beneficial following acute traumatic SCI with respect to severity of neuropathic pain syndromes, patient-perceived quality of life measures, and functional outcomes. The current literature suggests that acupuncture may improve upon traditional pharmacological treatment results for SCI related pain, and that patients are seeking improved pain management in order to improve their quality of life. While data is limited, there may also be improvement in motor functional recovery with the use of acupuncture. We do know that SCI related pain limits patient participation in rehabilitation, thus advances in the management of SCI related pain is a priority in SCI research in order to improve outcomes after SCI.

Specific Aims:

Specific Aim 1: To determine whether patients treated with acupuncture started during acute care have better immediate and long-term pain scores and decreases in self-reported pain interference.

Specific Aim 2: To determine whether patients treated with acupuncture started during acute care will have better overall quality of life measurements and improvements in self-reported well-being and resilience.

Specific Aim 3: To determine whether patients treated with acupuncture started during acute care will have improvement in functional recovery in comparison to the control group.

Study Design:

This trial will compare pain scores and patient-perceived quality of life for individuals who receive early and regular acupuncture therapy to a control group. Patients with blunt or penetrating traumatic SCI will be included. The Investigators will enroll 100 subjects over a 36-month period from the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center (STC). Once consent is obtained, enrolled patients will be evaluated using the ISNCSCI examination. Information about neuropathic pain and quality of life will be scored using NIH CDE recommended validated instruments within 72 hours of injury, during the 8-week treatment period, and at 3 and 6 months. The primary outcome is the improvement in NRS. The secondary outcomes are improvements in quality of life and functional recovery. Statistical analyses will involve constructive repeated measures mixed models to estimate the effect of treatment.

Clinical Impact:

The proposed trial will investigate the promising intervention of acupuncture for the management of neuropathic pain related to SCI. Improvement in neuropathic pain management is crucial in improving patients' rehabilitation, quality of life and ultimate outcome.

Condition Spinal Cord Injuries
Treatment Acupuncture
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT03197675
SponsorUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore
Last Modified on11 May 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

age between 18 and 75
complete (AIS A) or incomplete SCI (AIS B-D) of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine from blunt or penetrating trauma
ability to understand verbal and written English

Exclusion Criteria

a history of peripheral neuropathy
medical diagnoses or conditions that preclude them from active participation (for example, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury)
receipt of acupuncture in the last three months prior to enrollment
presence of skin breakdown or infection over the extremities or external ears
active participation in other research studies
cognitive impairment that prevents understanding the test instructions
active duty military personnel
individuals who do not speak or understand the English language
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