I'm thinking about seeing an acupuncturist for my neck pain. I had a motorcycle accident and crashed into a tree. Most of me was okay but I still have headaches, ringing in the ears, and some blurry vision from time to time. Would acupuncture help?
Many efforts have been made to find treatment for whiplash that is safe, fast, and effective. Acupuncture has been shown helpful in restoring postural control by improving muscle sensitivity. Acupuncture improves circulation to the neck and is believed to facilitate faster healing. Restoring the natural flow of energy through the body via acupuncture may help patients avoid developing chronic pain.
Postural control is the ability to stay upright and move through space easily and efficiently. Head and neck alignment, vision, and balance are all components of postural control. You may not realize it but something as simple as walking across a room while carrying an object requires the complete coordination of multiple systems.
Anything (e.g., whiplash injury) that affects postural control may contribute to the development of chronic symptoms (dizziness, blurred vision, unsteadiness or loss of balance). We know that sensors called receptors in the head and neck communicate with the musculoskeletal system.
Together these mechanisms signal the nervous system, vestibular system, and the visual systems. The postural control that allows you to walk, see where you are going, carry objects with you, and maintain upright posture are all tied in together.
There are also reflexes between the eyes, neck, and vestibular (inner ear) system that can be altered because of damage to the cervical spine. Any change in the sensory input from the neck muscles, tendons, and joints to the postural control system can result in the common symptoms of chronic whiplash. And until the effects on the postural control system are addressed, an unending cycle occurs and the symptoms remain. Acupuncture has been shown effective in this regard.
Other treatment strategies aimed at restoring normal postural control after whiplash currently under investigation include acupressure, vestibular rehabilitation, coordination exercises, and spinal manipulation.
Results have been variable. Some of these treatment tools improve balance and dizziness but do not alter pain. Others seem better at reducing pain but without changing coordination. Various studies combining different programs together are still underway.
Physical therapists often treat patients with chronic symptoms of whiplash injury such as dizziness and vestibular dysfunction (unsteadiness). They use a variety of tools and techniques to help restore normal postural control so often affected by the type of injury you described. You may want to consider trying both physical therapy and acupuncture together. Some patients try one, then the other, and then combine them together to see what works best for them.
Julia Treleaven, PT, PhD. Dizziness, Unsteadiness, Visual Disturbances, and Postural Control. In Spine. December 1, 2011. Vol. 36. No. 25S. Pp. S211-S217.
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