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Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.

Scalp acupuncture is a specialized form of acupuncture that has helped many people with nervous-system disorders, including spinal cord injury (SCI) and multiple sclerosis (MS). 

The leading force behind the therapy’s emergence has been Professor Ming Qing Zhu. A 1964 Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine graduate, Zhu has become an internationally recognized and acclaimed acupuncturist, who has authored manMoyee Siu, Alessandro, & Ming Qing Zhuy publications, including a scalp acupuncture textbook, and lectured throughout the world. Assisted by his associate Moyee Siu, Zhu currently operates clinics in San Jose and Santa Cruz.


Supplementing traditional body acupuncture, specific areas, such as the ear, foot, hand, and scalp, represent acupunctural microsystems for the entire body. Through treating a localized microsystem, health-enhancing energy flow (also called qi) can be stimulated in virtually any body part.

Although the scalp acupuncture microsystem can treat most of the same disorders as traditional acupuncture, it is especially effective in treating nervous-system disorders and pain. For example, studies have shown that scalp acupuncture has helped thousands of Chinese stroke patients, apparently through altering blood hormone levels that influence stroke-inducing platelet clumping. In addition, numerous people with MS, SCI, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and head injury have also benefited from scalp acupuncture. Zhu believes the therapy is most effective when initiated soon after the traumatic injury or neurological crisis.

Multiple Sclerosis:

According to Zhu, scalp acupuncture will almost invariably reduce MS symptom severity. Because so many people with the disorder have been treated, a specific MS protocol has been developed and disseminated for use by other acupuncturists (see While visiting Zhu’s clinic, I talked to Morgause, a woman with MS who believes that her ambulatory and standing ability and energy levels have increased significantly after only a few treatments.

Spinal Cord Injury:

Over his career, Zhu has also treated about 20 individuals with SCI. Although he emphasizes that scalp acupuncture is not a cure-all panacea, he says most of his SCI patients have accrued significant quality-of-life-enhancing health benefits, even though treatment was usually initiated long after time of acute injury, the most optimal therapeutic window. Even with chronic injuries, dramatic improvements occasionally occur.  For example, one patient with a T-11 gunshot injury came in for pain treatment and ended up regaining considerable walking ability.

Treatment Procedure:

Very fine needles are painlessly inserted at a 15–30 degree angle into the thin layer of scalp tissue (see illustration) in treatment zones associated with specific body functions and regions Scalp AcupunctureTo stimulate qi flow, the needles are periodically manipulated.

Because the needles are inserted in the scalp, the patient can receive treatment in any position, and the needles can be left in for extended, treatment-enhancing time periods without interfering with daily activities. Typically, the needles remain inserted for at least the two-hour clinic visit and often up to 72 hours.

Since much of the treatment is carried out in Zhu’s reception room, patients with diverse disorders often share their experiences and develop a supportive, nurturing camaraderie and sense of connection.

From personal experience, the scalp acupuncture is, indeed, innocuous. I felt no pain when the needles were inserted and over time forget that they were there until I would absentmindedly run my hand through my hair. The needles didn’t interfere with my sleep that night and were only pulled out the following morning because my vanity required that I do something with my disheveled hair.

Physical Movement:

While the needles are inserted, Zhu encourages patients to move the affected body parts or, at minimum, visualize the movement accompanied with qigong-based breathing practices that help direct the qi flow to the intended area. He believes that such treatment-associated movement is critical in improving connections between the central and peripheral nervous system.

Even in paralysis cases, Zhu encourages these movements, using, as necessary, assistive devices or the help of others. For example, I saw Morgause with needles inserted in her scalp and using a walker trudging purposefully across the 25-foot clinic floor. This was a major ambulatory accomplishment for her.

Zhu related another example involving an acutely injured young woman who had acquired a clinically classified complete, C6-7 injury due to a car accident. From her Vancouver hospital bed, she was assisted to a standing position while being treated with scalp acupuncture.  Zhu believed this early treatment initiation, including the woman’s efforts to stand, was largely responsible for her ensuing, stunning functional recovery. 

Alessandro’s Story:

At Zhu’s clinic, I also talked to Alessandro, an articulate, energetic 40-year old quadriplegic with a charismatic smile and infectious enthusiasm. Before his injury, he led an active lifestyle that reflected his love of the outdoors.

In 1997, Alessandro‘s life changed in an instant due to a renegade wave he chose to body surf.

“A small two-foot wave became an eight-foot face that took my 6’2, 215 pound body over the falls and dropped me headlong into the sand below…I immediately heard a crack …and knew under no uncertain terms that I was paralyzed.”

With his fifth cervical vertebrae now crushed, Alessandro notes, “What was once an active, adventurous outdoor lifestyle became an active, internal pursuit of recovery.” 

Alessandro believes that Zhu’s care, treatment, and support was foremost in this pursuit, and feels Zhu is his “primary doctor.”

Alessandro says he fortunate to have been treated by Zhu initially only 12-days post injury.

“My initial treatment with Zhu in the hospital was not only incredibly and literally electrifying, but it really made me feel more at ease with my situation, physically, psychologically, and emotionally,” he says. “Moreover, Zhu’s therapy significantly aided in getting me off the pain pills I was taking as well as other drugs.”

In spite of an original prognosis limiting his future activity to a “sip and puff” wheelchair, Alessandro has regained considerable function, which he attributes to Zhu’s treatment combined with his rigorous physical-therapy regimen. Alessandro has regained arm strength, some wrist control, and hand sensation, enabling him to use a phone handset and feed himself without a splint. Because he has also regained abdominal, lower back, and paraspinal muscles, he is almost at the point of doing unassisted weight shifts and lifting his torso upright in his standing frame. This additional torso strength has enabled him to sit for a long time while exercising on his mat table. For example, he can swing his arms back and forth in an exaggerated walking motion without assistance or falling over.

Moreover, Alessandro says that Zhu’s treatment has greatly enhanced his overall wellness, allowing him to direct his energy to functional recovery rather just attempting to stay well.


Scalp acupuncture represents yet another alternative healing modality, whose underlying philosophy and successful clinical track record does not negate, but rather supplements, conventional medicine’s many important contributions. If we can set aside our progress-inhibiting illusions of knowledge and attempt to open-mindedly integrate divergent health-care perspectives, such as scalp acupuncture, we will have an expanded healing spectrum that can only benefit individuals with disabilities.

For more information, check or call 408-885-1288.

Adapted from article appearing in Paraplegia News, February, 2002 (For subscriptions, contact

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