What I Need to Know about Acupuncture for Stroke
Post on 28/11/16
Some Survivors wonder how alternative therapies could affect their post-stroke health. Licensed Chinese Medicine Physician Jeraldine Seah shares the traditional principles behind one popular treatment.
Acupuncture is an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and has been used for both prevention and treatment of various diseases. It involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into specific acupuncture points found on meridians (pathways) in the body. With manipulation of the needles, de-qi sensation is being elicited. De-qi refers to a sensation of numbness, distension, or tingling at the needling site or may radiate along the corresponding meridian.
Acupuncture involves different techniques including the use of traditional body acupuncture points, auricular as well as scalp acupuncture. Similar to reflexology, auricular acupuncture stimulates reflex points on the ear which relieves conditions of a distal pathology. Scalp acupuncture is a therapeutic method where specific areas or lines of the scalp are needled. Pulsating electrical current may be applied to the acupuncture needles as a means of stimulating the acupuncture points (also known as electro-acupuncture). Acupuncture also includes moxibustion, a technique that involves the burning of mugwort (herbal leaf).
How Does Acupuncture Work?
In TCM, the function of acupuncture is to clear blockages and restore the normal flow of Qi, thereby stimulating the body’s own natural healing system. Research has revealed that acupuncture can trigger multiple biological responses in the human body, including circulatory and biochemical effects. Such responses can occur close to the site of needling, or distally. These may result in the activation of neural pathways as well as the secretion of neurotransmitters, which affects various physiological systems.
The use of acupuncture for post stroke rehabilitation in China is based on extensive clinical research. It is widely used as a complementary therapy by Chinese patients to improve post stroke sensory, motor, speech and other neurological deficits. In the past, the lack of publications, poor study quality or inconclusive research in English journals may have impeded the consideration of its use as an adjunct to standard care in routine Western clinical practice.
However, there have been more and more clinical trials which demonstrate the positive effects of acupuncture as a complementary treatment modality for post stroke rehabilitation in the recent decades. Animal studies have revealed that the effects of acupuncture on stroke could be possibly due to the inhibition of post-ischemic inflammatory reaction and stimulation of neurogenesis and angiogenesis.
Applying Acupuncture for Stroke Survivors
Acupuncture treatment is commonly used for post-stroke paralysis, dysphagia, spasticity, pain and depression. It has been shown to improve motor function, independence in activities of daily living and quality of life. Utilizing both scalp and body acupuncture is a valuable method in the treatment of stroke. Generally, acupuncture points on the affected side are needled, whereas when administering scalp acupuncture, points on the motor area and foot-kinesthetic sensory area on the opposite side are employed.
Time is crucial in stroke treatment. Early intervention is highly recommended. The frequency of treatment will be determined by the severity and duration of the condition and it changes during the course of the disease. Daily treatments are recommended in the early stage. Typically, each acupuncture treatment session will last about 20 to 25 minutes.
Safety of Acupuncture for Stroke Survivors
Acupuncture is a relatively inexpensive and safe treatment modality when delivered by an appropriately trained practitioner. Anticoagulants are commonly prescribed to stroke patients and the safety of acupuncture for patients on anticoagulant therapy are often a concern. A study on the “Safety of acupuncture treatments for patients taking warfarin or antiplatelet medications: Retrospective chart review study” published in European Journal of Integrative Medicine has revealed that acupuncture treatment appeared to be safe, even for patients taking warfarin or antiplatelet medications and those who have high INR. A total of 242 patients and 4,891 acupuncture treatments were identified in this study. No patients experienced serious adverse events such as extensive bleeding.
In conclusion, acupuncture is a safe and low cost adjunct to standard care in the treatment of stroke patients. Promising rehabilitation improvements can be achieved but further high-quality clinical trials would be needed to support implementation within clinical practice.
Jeraldine Seah is a licensed Chinese Medicine Physician and is practicing as an acupuncturist at Singapore General Hospital’s Acupuncture Services. She graduated with a Double Degree in Biomedical Sciences and Chinese Medicine from Nanyang Technological University and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. Before commencing with any new form of post-stroke treatment, including alternative forms of therapy, please consult your primary physician.
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