CREATION: A Clinical Trial of Qigong for Neuropathic Pain Relief in Adults With Spinal Cord Injury

  • End date
    Jun 15, 2026
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of Minnesota
Updated on 7 October 2022
pain relief
spinal cord
neuropathic pain
spinal cord disorder


Between 39-67% of the 294,000 Americans who have a SCI suffer from long-term debilitating neuropathic pain, interfering with rehabilitation, general activity, mobility, mood, sleep, and quality of life. Pain can hinder any potential for functional improvement that could be obtained during rehabilitation. Yet, neuropathic pain is refractory to many treatments. Current interventions, such as medications and physical therapy, result in less than 50% reduction in pain for only about one third of the people trying them, calling for new treatment options.

Qigong, a mind and body approach that incorporates gentle body movements, paired with a focus on breathing and body awareness to promote health and wellness, could reduce SCI-related neuropathic pain. If the hypothesis is supported, the resulting work could be transformative in demonstrating a potentially effective therapy for civilians, military Service members, and Veterans with SCI and neuropathic pain. The following provides the scientific basis for this hypothesis and establishes the rationale for this approach.

This study also includes an optional, remote, quasi-experimental substudy, in which all participants will receive Qigong for 12 weeks, followed by 6 weeks followup.


Neuropathic pain in adults with spinal cord injury (SCI) has been attributed to altered pain processing-related brain function. However, recent studies showed that SCI-related brain alterations impact more than pain perception alone, because adults with SCI also have altered body awareness. As suggested by previous brain imaging studies, SCI-related neuropathic pain could be viewed as part of a broader body awareness deficit, affecting connectivity with two brain areas -the parietal operculum (parts OP1/OP4) and the insula- which are essential for the formation of body awareness as well as for pain perception. Previous data imply that improving body awareness could restore the altered pain pathways and lead to neuropathic pain relief. However, for SCI, restoring the pain pathways and relieving neuropathic pain through body awareness training have been a challenge in the rehabilitation field. In this proposal, the investigators will test the hypothesis that Qigong -a mind and body approach that incorporates gentle body movements, paired with a focus on breathing and body awareness to promote health and wellness- could reduce SCI-related neuropathic pain by improving body awareness. Enhancing body awareness may also be beneficial for adults with "discomplete" SCI, characterized by complete transection as judged by clinical criteria, but with neurophysiological evidence of conduction through the level of damage.

The central hypothesis is that Qigong restores body awareness and sensory and pain perception processing through restoring OP1/OP4 and insula connectivity, thereby reducing or relieving pain. It is further hypothesized that Qigong practice is feasible and safe for adults with SCI and that kinesthetic imagery of Qigong movements (for those unable to perform arm movements) versus performing the movements will have the same effect on brain function in key pain areas, and on reducing pain. If these hypotheses are supported, the outcomes could be transformative in (i) showing a potentially effective therapy for neuropathic pain relief that can be done at home, (ii) delineating underlying neural mechanisms of how Qigong relieves neuropathic pain, and (iii) demonstrating that body awareness training can improve signal conduction in discomplete SCI.

Specific Aim 1: Determine whether 12 weeks of Qigong is feasible and well tolerated in 64 individuals with SCI with either paraplegia (n=32) or tetraplegia (n=32).

Specific Aim 2: Determine whether 12 weeks of Qigong practice reduces moderate to severe below-level neuropathic pain in 64 individuals with SCI with either paraplegia (n=32) or tetraplegia (n=32).

Specific Aim 3: Determine whether 12 weeks of Qigong practice restores brain activity and connectivity related to pain processing in adults with SCI.

Condition Spinal Cord Injuries
Treatment Qigong
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04917107
SponsorUniversity of Minnesota
Last Modified on7 October 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Spinal cord injury of greater than or equal to 3 months
Medically stable with paraplegia (T1 and below) or tetraplegia (C4 and below)
Highest level of below-level SCI-related neuropathic pain >3 on the numeric pain rating scale

Exclusion Criteria

MRI contra-indications (stabilizing hardware is typically MRI safe)
Uncontrolled seizure disorder; cognitive impairment and/or communicative disability (e.g., due to brain injury) that prevent the participant from following directions or from learning
Ventilator dependency
Pregnancy to plans to become pregnant during study
Inability to perform kinesthetic imagery
Participants who cannot feel index finger movements will not perform the robot task but will perform all other resting-state and tasks in the MRI scanner
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