Other common name(s): none
Scientific/medical name(s): none
Neural therapy involves the injection of anesthetics (drugs that normally cause numbness or reduce pain) into various places in the body to eliminate pain and cure illness.
Research into neural therapy has been done mainly in Germany, where the therapy is widely used. No reports of clinical research on the effectiveness of neural therapy for pain management or any other health problems could be found in the available U.S. scientific journals.
How is it promoted for use?
The practice of neural therapy is based on the belief that energy flows freely through the body of a healthy person. Proponents claim injury, disease, malnutrition, stress, and even scar tissue disrupt this flow, creating energy imbalances called "interference fields." Some proponents of this theory in Germany have stated that 40 percent of all illness and chronic pain may be caused by interference fields in the body.
There are other explanations for how neural therapy works, including the electrical disturbance theory, the restricted lymphatic system theory, and the idea that illness is caused by distortion in the connective tissue of the body. All of these theories assume that any interference in structure, lymphatic flow, or electrical conduction can cause illness. The goal of neural therapy is to correct the interference and heal the illness or symptom. However, even those who practice neural therapy acknowledge that the process is not well understood.
Neural therapy is promoted mainly to relieve chronic pain. It is also thought to be helpful for people with allergies; hay fever; headaches; arthritis; asthma; hormone imbalances; sports or muscle injuries; gallbladder, heart, or liver disease; dizziness; depression; menstrual cramps; and skin and circulation problems.
There are conflicting beliefs about the usefulness of neural therapy for easing cancer-related pain. Proponents of the therapy for other uses generally suggest that people who have cancer should not use neural therapy. They say that it is unlikely to help and may even cause the cancer to spread. Finally, they maintain that neural therapy is not helpful in genetic diseases, nutritional deficiencies, end-stage chronic diseases, and mental health disorders other than depression.
This method is not to be confused with the nerve blocks and local anesthesia used in conventional medicine. Nerve blocks involve injections of medication to relieve pain caused by stimulation of a peripheral nerve. Local anesthesia is medication given at a local site to relieve localized pain. For example, a local anesthetic may be given before a tooth is removed, before removing a small skin lesion, or to help chronic pain in cancer. This type of anesthetic use has been proven to be effective.
What does it involve?
Practitioners begin by asking questions about the current problem and any past illnesses and injuries. They decide what is most likely to be the cause of the energy flow disturbance in the body and then inject anesthetics such as lidocaine and procaine at key points, which may be far from the pain source. These injections are meant to eliminate the interference and restore the body's natural energy flow. The injections may be given into nerves, acupuncture points, glands, scars, and trigger points (abnormally sensitive knots of tight muscle tissue that may cause pain or limit range of motion). A course of treatment may involve one or more injections spread over several weeks. A few practitioners use electrical current and lasers instead of injected drugs. The patient may be asked to keep a log of changes in the body for a day or two after injections are done. This may be used to guide future treatments.
Some practitioners combine neural therapy with other types of treatment, such as homeopathy, applied kinesiology, and biological dentistry. In fact, some practitioners believe that root canals, metal tooth fillings, and even jewelry can cause interference fields.
What is the history behind it?
The idea behind neural therapy -- that the nervous system influences all bodily functions -- originated in Germany in the late 1800s with a Russian physiologist named Ivan Petrov. In the 1940s, Ferdinand and Walter Huneke, both physicians, carried this idea further. They believed that injecting local anesthetics could affect distant parts of the body, a theory based on a clinical experience with a patient who complained of shoulder pain. When Ferdinand Huneke injected an anesthetic drug directly into an existing scar on the patient's leg, the patient's shoulder pain reportedly disappeared in minutes. From this experience arose the notion of interference fields and the development of neural therapy.
Today, neural therapy is only practiced at a few clinics in the United States. However, it is widely used in Europe and South America.
What is the evidence?
Most articles on neural therapy have been published in Germany, where neural therapy is popular and most of the literature focuses on pain relief. Many of the promoters have claimed positive results, but no clinical studies have been done in the United States. A study done in Scotland in 1999 seemed to suggest that neural therapy might be helpful for people with multiple sclerosis. However, it was an uncontrolled study, so no reliable conclusions can be drawn. Available scientific evidence does not support claims that neural therapy is effective in treating cancer or any other disease.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
Since there are few studies done on the use of neural therapy, information about side effects is limited. At least one person had bleeding on the brain while undergoing neural therapy, which was reported in German medical literature. Neural therapy practitioners suggest that people who have cancer, kidney failure, blood clotting disorders, or myasthenia gravis (a condition in which muscles are very weak) should not use neural therapy. Patients taking blood-thinning medications may have problems with this treatment, as might those taking morphine or heart rhythm drugs that may be somewhat similar to the anesthetic drugs used in neural therapy. People with allergies to the anesthetic drugs are not candidates for the therapy.
Relying on this treatment alone and delaying or avoiding conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
More information from your American Cancer Society
The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our Web site (www.cancer.org) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).
The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management
Cassileth B. The Alternative Medicine Handbook: The Complete Reference Guide to Alternative and Complementary Therapies. New York, NY: W. W. Norton; 1998.
Gibson RG, Gibson SL. Neural therapy in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. J Altern Complement Med. 1999;5:543-552.
Heyll U, Ziegenhagen DJ. Subarachnoid hemorrhage as life-threatening complication of neural therapy. Case report [in German]. Versicherungsmedizin. 2000;52:33-36.
Kaslow JE. Neural therapy. Dr. Kaslow Web site. Accessed at www.drkaslow.com/html/neural_therapy.html on June 2, 2008.
Kennedy R. Neural therapy. The Doctors’ Medical Library Web site. Accessed at www.medical-library.net/content/view/63/45/ on June 2, 2008.
Klinghardt D. Neural therapy and the brain. Neural Therapy Web site. Accessed at www.neuraltherapy.com/a_neural_therapy_brain.asp on May 30, 2008.
NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology: adult cancer pain, v 1.2006. National Comprehensive Cancer Network Web site. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/PDF/pain.pdf on March 30, 2007.
Neural therapy. American Association of Orthopedic Medicine Web site. Accessed at www.aaomed.org/page.asp?id=93&name=Neural+Therapy on June 2, 2008.
Raso J. The expanded dictionary of metaphysical healthcare, alternative medicine, paranormal healing, and related methods. Quackwatch Web site. Accessed at www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/dictionary/md00.html on May 30, 2008.
Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.