Acupuncture for acute management and rehabilitation of traumatic brain injury

Acupuncture used for the acute treatment, rehabilitation (or both) of traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been studied in China. We conducted a systematic review to evaluate the efficacy and safety of acupuncture for these conditions. Four randomized controlled trials were eligible for inclusion in this review, involving 294 patients. Three investigated electro-acupuncture for TBI while one investigated acupuncture for acute TBI. The studies were of low methodological quality and were diverse in their objectives, participant characteristics, acupuncture modalities and strategies, and outcome measures. The small number of studies together with their low methodological quality means that they are inadequate to allow any conclusion to be drawn about the efficacy and safety of acupuncture in the treatment of TBI. Further methodologically robust studies are needed to generate evidence-based conclusions.

Authors' conclusions: 

The low methodological quality of the included studies does not allow us to make conclusive judgments on the efficacy and safety of acupuncture in either the acute treatment and/or rehabilitation of TBI. Its beneficial role for these indications remains uncertain. Further research with high quality trials is required.

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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be life threatening depending on the severity of the insult to the brain. It can also cause a range of debilitating sequelae which require cognitive, motor, communication, emotional, or behavioral rehabilitation of varying intensity and duration. A number of studies conducted and published in China have suggested that acupuncture may be beneficial in the acute treatment and rehabilitation of TBI.


To determine the efficacy and safety of acupuncture in the acute management or rehabilitation (or both) of patients with a TBI, including cognitive, neurological, motor, communication, emotional, or behavioral complications, or a combination of such complications.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Injuries Group Specialised Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library), MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, AMED, PsycINFO and others. We also searched the Chinese Acupuncture Studies Register, the Studies Register of the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field, NCCAM, and NIH Clinical Studies Database. Three major Mainland Chinese academic literature databases (CNKI, VIP and Wang Fang Data) were also searched using keywords in simplified Chinese. We searched all databases through December 2009, and some searches have been updated to October 2012.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized controlled studies evaluating different variants of acupuncture and involving participants of any age who had suffered a TBI. Included trials compared acupuncture with placebo or sham treatment, or acupuncture plus other treatments compared with the same other treatments. We excluded trials that only compared different variants of acupuncture or compared acupuncture alone against other treatments alone, as they did not yield the net effect of acupuncture.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors identified potential articles from the literature search and extracted data independently using a data extraction form. We performed methodological assessment of included studies using the Cochrane Collaboration's tool for assessing risk of bias. We were unable to perform quantitative data analysis due to insufficient included studies and available data.

Main results: 

Four RCTs, including 294 participants, reported outcomes specified by this review. Three investigated electro-acupuncture for TBI while one investigated acupuncture for acute TBI. The results seem to suggest that acupuncture is efficacious for these indications, however the low methodological quality of these studies renders the results questionable. No adverse effects of acupuncture were reported in any of the studies.