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Treating Stroke with Acupuncture

Treating Stroke with Acupuncture

Image: Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Each year, 15 million people suffer from stroke.  Five million of those die and another five million suffer varying degrees of long term disability. Some of the primary risk factors leading up to a stroke include smoking, diet, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure; however, studies have proven that complementary therapies such as Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, can lower these risk factors, reducing the likelihood of a stroke but more notably, improve the progress and speed of recovery during post-stroke rehabilitation.

In terms of prevention, Chinese medicine works to offset the system imbalances that contribute to stroke, such as long-term emotional and physical strain, overwork, poor diet, stress and anxiety.

One of the most successful complementary treatments for stroke survivors is scalp acupuncture, which was developed by neurosurgeons and based on the study of neuroanatomy. The theory of acupuncture is based on a series of channels that carry electrical and chemical energy to all areas of the body for it to function in a healthy, efficient manner.  Sometimes, these pathways suffer interference through injury or illness.  Stimulation of these channels using acupuncture needles promotes circulation, reduces inflammation, and allows the body to clear any obstacles and ease pain, thereby improving the flow of energy throughout the body.

When combined with conventional rehabilitation such as physical therapy, the power of scalp acupuncture stimulates healthy, unaffected areas of the brain to assume control of functions damaged by the stroke allowing the patient to heal from within. By inserting acupuncture needles into the scalp and applying mild electro stimulation to specific regions, blood flow and oxygen transport is increased to portions of the cerebral cortex, reviving cell and nerve function. This collaborative form of rehabilitation helps stroke survivors to relearn lost skills to become as independent as possible, with the ultimate goal of having the best quality of life possible.

The costs associated with conventional treatments can be high, and now, more than ever before, innovative therapies such as acupuncture are playing an increasingly important role to prevent and aid in stroke rehabilitation. Immediate treatment can also reduce the degree of long-term impediments in patients and lessen the overall strain on our already stretched medical system.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What  is a stroke?

A stroke or cerebral vascular accident (CVA) is when an interruption or complete termination of blood flow to the brain occurs, and within minutes, cells within the brain begin to die.  There are two major types of stroke:

An ischemic stroke is caused by a full or partial blockage of blood vessels to the brain. For example, a blood clot or fatty plaque can lodge in an artery and prevent the free flow of blood to areas of the brain.

A haemorrhagic stroke is caused by a rupture in a blood vessel leading to bleeding within the brain. Typically an aneurysm bursts through the wall of a vessel and allows blood to leak into the brain or surrounding tissues, subsequently reducing blood flow to the brain.

Physical and cognitive limitations caused by stroke can include some or all of the following:

  • Paralysis or problems controlling movement
  • Pain and other problems with the senses
  • Problems using or understanding language
  • Problems with thinking and memory
  • Emotional disturbances

The warning signs of a stroke may include facial asymmetry causing one side of the face to droop, the inability to raise one or more arms and/or speech impairment. If you suspect someone may be having a stroke, ask them to: smile and look for drooping features,  lift their arms and observe for motor skill imbalance, and repeat a phrase to see if their speech sounds different or strange.


For more information on some of the effective treatments mentioned above, please refer to the following resources:

My Stroke of Insight (TED Talk) by Jill Bolte Taylor

9000 Needles (film trailer)

Integrative Stroke Therapy

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