Acupuncture for Stroke Rehabilitation

Alternative Treatments Win! Acupuncture for Stroke Rehabilitation

            According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 15 million people across the globe that suffer a stroke every year making it the third leading cause of death. That being said, according to research, 90% of stroke patients have either major or minor impairments that require special care often for the remainder of their lives such as paralysis on the affected side. However, stroke professionals also state that 80% of strokes are preventable with appropriate lifestyle changes.

Stroke: Before & After

            Stroke is a condition that occurs when something is blocking the blood flow to the brain or when a blood vessel bursts within the brain. In both cases, affected parts of the brain become damaged or die altogether causing long term disability, lasting brain damage, and in the worst case, death.

Types of Stroke:

  • Ischemic Stroke – this is the most common type of stroke, and it occurs when the blood flow which goes through the artery supplying oxygen-rich blood to the brain is being blocked.

    Potential reasons for an Ischemic Stroke:

    • Fatty deposits building up in the blood vessels

    • Blood clots (often from the heart)

  • Hemorrhagic Stroke – less common type of stroke, and it occurs when an artery in the brain ruptures or leaks blood flooding the brain with blood (hemorrhaging). This puts pressure on the brain cells damaging them.

    Conditions related to hemorrhagic stroke:

    • High blood pressure

    • Trauma

    • Ischemic stroke

    • Overtreatment/overuse with anticoagulants

    • Aneurysms

    • Protein deposits in the blood vessel walls leading to weakness in the vessel wall
Both types of stroke can be brought on by multiple risk factors including lifestyle choices like diet, physical activities, weight, alcohol consumption, smoking, etc. as well as the medical conditions listed above.

Possible complications of a stroke:

  • Difficulty swallowing or talking; aphasia – trouble controlling the muscles in the throat and mouth causing difficulty eating, swallowing, or talking clearly. Not only this, but can also have difficulty speaking or understanding speech, writing, or reading.

  • Emotional problems – controlling emotions may be a struggle for some stroke patients depending on the part of the brain affected. Many stroke sufferers develop things like depression, anxiety, and insomnia from the former.

  • Pain – pain or numbness is common on the affected side and/or limb.

  • Paralysis – a common complication of stroke on the affected side of the body.

  • Memory loss – many stroke patients experience memory loss or difficulty thinking, making judgements, understanding concepts, and reasoning due to brain damage from the stroke.

  • Changes in behavior – stroke patients can often become more withdrawn, and may need help with chores or grooming.
In western medicine, stroke patients are often treated with both physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Although many stroke patients struggle with these ailments post stroke, recovery is possible, and at the very least, an improved quality of life is possible.

Acupuncture & Stroke Recovery

            Acupuncture treatment for stroke recovery has gained ground in recent years because of the many benefits it provides including reducing spasticity, improving mobility, and improving muscle strength. Acupuncture is safe to begin once the stroke is stable, and electroacupuncture or scalp acupuncture is especially helpful in improving mobility after a stroke by improving balance.

Conditions that can be improved with acupuncture after a stroke:

  • Emotional recovery

  • Spasticity

  • Imbalance

  • Paralysis

  • Swallowing issues

  • Muscle strength

Acupuncture points for post-Stroke conditions:

  • LI15

  • GV20

  • LI4

  • LI11

  • LI10

  • HT1

  • PC6

  • SI19

  • GV26

  • GV14

  • ST36
There has been a great deal of research done over the last several years regarding the positive effects that acupuncture has shown in treating stroke complications.

Acupuncture for Stroke Recovery Research:

  • Efficiency of Acupuncture for Dysphagia After Stroke – 2021:

    • The purpose of this study was to determine the clinical efficiency of acupuncture in patients with dysphagia after stroke. There were 6 databases that were to search for randomized controlled trials of acupuncture for dysphagia after stroke. Included in the study were a total of 39 randomized controlled trials.

    • Existing evidence from these studies showed acupuncture substantially improved the swallowing function in patients with dysphagia after a stroke.

  • Effect of Acupuncture on Neuroplasticity of Stroke Patients with Motor Dysfunction – 2021:

    • The purpose of this study was to determine brain activity that is altered by acupuncture treatment in stroke patients with motor dysfunction compared to conventional treatment.

    • A total of 7 studies comprising of 281 patients (143 in the acupuncture treatment group, 138 in the control group), and suggest that acupuncture aids in the healing of motor dysfunction in stroke patients. Within the brain, acupuncture treatment shows hyperactivation in the bilateral basal ganglia and insula, while there was hypoactivation in the motor control related areas of the brain such as those in bilateral BA6 and left BA4.

    • The study concluded that acupuncture treatment supports neuroplasticity in the subcortical parts of the brain that are normally affected with a stroke, as well as cortical motor areas which may make up for motor deficiencies.

  • Mechanisms of Acupuncture Therapy in Ischemic Stroke Rehabilitation – 2017:

    • The purpose of this study was to review current literature, and determine current known processes of ischemic stroke rehabilitation with electroacupuncture and traditional acupuncture, as well as acupuncture points used.

    • This review found that acupuncture promotes neurogenesis and cell proliferation in the central nervous system, regulates neurochemicals, improves memory after stroke, regulates blood flow within the brain in the ischemic area, and prevents cell death in the ischemic area.

    • This study overall concluded that there were multiple benefits with acupuncture treatment on ischemic stroke patients though treatment of various mechanisms starting in the central nervous system.

  • Acupuncture Efficiency on Ischemic Stroke Recovery – 2015:

    • The purpose of this study was to determine the safety and efficiency of acupuncture treatment on ischemic stroke on a larger scale.

    • Patients were separated into the acupuncture treatment group plus standard care, and standard care alone. Acupuncture treatment was applied for 3 – 4 weeks 5 times per week.

    • This study concluded that at the 6-month mark, there were fewer patients that had died or were dependence within the acupuncture treatment group as opposed to the control group.

    • This study concluded that there were benefits observed with acupuncture treatment in the subacute phase of an ischemic stroke.
Although there is still more research that can be done, these are extremely positive outcomes when it comes to acupuncture for stroke rehabilitation.

Acupuncture, Stroke, & Recovery

With the large amount of people having strokes every day, there is a greater need for further treatment modalities to help stroke patients cope with the aftermath of their stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), strokes make up for approximately 1 of every 18 deaths in the United States each year. Acupuncture, especially in recent years, has shown solid evidence in the for treatment of post-stroke complications in patients. As new studies are done, and more support is shown from western medicine, patients will have a plethora of treatment options in coping with life after their stroke.

To learn more about Stroke and earn CEUs/PDAs, click on the course link below:

Caring-For-Stroke: TCM-Western-Med Perspectives –
15 Acupuncture CEUs/PDAs