Case Studies: A Different Approach to Spinal Cord Injury—Acupuncture and Rehabilitation as an Alternative to Surgery

Narda Robinson, DVM, DO, MS, FAAMA, founder of CuraCore VET, is a leading authority on scientific integrative medicine. Robinson and Michael C. Petty, DVM, CCRT, CVPP, DAAPM, wrote an article exploring acupuncture and rehabilitation as an alternative to surgery for spinal cord injuries. 

The following abstracts and videos describe three spinal cord injury patients who graduated from CuraCore VET’s medical acupuncture program, and discuss the nonsurgical treatments and successful outcomes that followed. Read on and click the videos to see the results of these remarkable cases.  

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Randy, a 13-year-old, intact male golden retriever, presented with a chronic history of decreased mobility that had recently worsened. On physical examination, abnormalities included marked bilateral temporal muscle atrophy, bilateral crossed extensor reflex tests in the pelvic limbs (suggested of T3-L3 myelopathy), and widespread myofascial restriction and reduced range of motion in joint structures affected by long-standing osteoarthritis.

Acupuncture treatment consisted of (1) paraspinal needling for neuromodulation of negatively affected spinal cord segments, (2) periarticular points to address joint restriction and myofascial pain, and (3) autonomic points on the head and distal limbs to improve homeostasis and reduce inflammation. Randy also received oral gabapentin at 12 mg/kg twice daily, beginning one week before acupuncture.

Although dry needling was the only type of acupuncture or physical medicine modality utilized during the four, once-weekly treatment sessions, the patient’s ambulation (function) significantly improved after only two weeks and continued to improve throughout the duration. By the end of only four weeks, a moderate increase in muscle mass (form) had occurred. Moreover, neuropathic, inflammatory, and myofascial pain states had lessened.


Mo, an 11.5-year-old, neutered male cockapoo, presented in February 2017 “down” in the hind end. The injury occurred at home without the owner present. Mo’s primary care veterinarian started him on prednisone and gabapentin. He also presented the options of surgery, acupuncture, and rehabilitation; financial constraints eliminated surgery as an option. Acupuncture by Kimberly Nelson, DVM, commenced about two weeks later. Upon physical examination, the dog displayed normal neurologic responses in the thoracic limbs. Pelvic limb assessment indicated lower motor neuron signs localized to the region of L4-S3, with absent withdrawal and patellar tendon reflexes. Mild toe pinch produced no response. Sensation was notably diminished over the lumbosacral region.

Acupuncture treatment consisted of points to address affected spinal cord segments and peripheral nerves in the pelvic limbs, along with local points for myofascial dysfunction. Mo did exhibit conscious recognition of needling applied to the interphalangeal web spaces of the pelvic limb, even though he had not responded to mild toe pinch previously. Nelson noted return of withdrawal and patellar reflexes by the time of his second acupuncture treatment ten days after his first acupuncture session. He then recovered normal sensation over the lumbosacral region by the following week at his third acupuncture session. In conjunction with acupuncture (dry needling), Mo also received photomedicine, underwater treadmill therapy, and therapeutic exercise by a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner.


Scooby is a 3-year-old, intact male Labrador retriever/Dachshund cross who went from paresis to complete paraplegia in less than an hour after no known trauma. Fear aggression resulted in a limited physical examination. Clients declined diagnostic tests (blood work, radiographs). Scooby received acupuncture, providing neuromodulation for central and peripheral nerve pathways and relaxation of myofascial dysfunction, within 24 hours of presentation. He was also given corticosteroids (1 mg/kg tapering dose over 2 weeks), methocarbamol (40 mg/kg TID for 24 hours , then 20 mg/kg BID for 1 week), and gabapentin (10 mg/kg BID-TID, which he received for about 2 months). Scooby became independently ambulatory (i.e., not needing a sling) after about 20 days. After about 45 days, the owner deemed him “recovered.” Scooby was treated by Susan Speak, DVM, cVMA. 




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