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By Heather Fulker

  • Calgary Acupuncture How Acupuncture Helps Stroke

**Since the publishing of this article, we have launched our program, Acupuncture for Stroke Recovery. Click here to learn more. Consultation and first visit are FREE.**

If you’re thinking about using Acupuncture as a tool in your Stroke recovery, well pull up a chair, this is about to get good!

Did you know Stroke is the most prevalent condition treated with Acupuncture in Chinese hospitals? That's because it's amazing tool for Stroke recovery!

Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability for persons over the age of 18 here in Canada affecting approximately 741,000 Canadians (about the population of New Brunswick). Research has shown that Acupuncture works best in Stroke recovery when combined with traditional rehabilitation methods and the sooner the better.  However, given that the mechanism behind Acupuncture is by utilizing the nervous system to help the body heal itself, Acupuncture can be a great tool at any time in Stroke recovery. Acupuncture works by stimulating the nervous system, providing feedback to the brain to promote and facilitate neuroplasticity and to assist the brain in rewiring and reorganizing itself.

Here are 3 ways Acupuncture can help Stroke recovery:

1. Hemiplegia and Hemiparesis

Hemiplegia (paralysis of half the body) and Hemiparesis (weakness of half the body) can be a common issue post-stroke.  Common therapies are Physical therapy and Occupational therapy and sometimes even Recreational therapy.  Repetition is a key factor in neuroplasticity and recovery from hemiplegia and hemiparesis, so often exercises are repeated to stimulate new neural pathways and promote motor recovery.  The use of Acupuncture with hemiplegia and hemiparesis provides extra stimulation to the effected parts of the body, giving much needed feedback to the brain of the “lost connection” and encourages reconnection.  Acupuncturists may choose to provide electrical stimulation to some needle sites to emphasize and stimulate that neural pathway even further.

2. Sensory Deficits

Post-stroke sensory deficits can impact a person’s ability to feel touch, temperature, or to know the position of their body part (proprioception). A Stroke can impact how the brain receives sensory signals and can leave someone with neuropathic pain (abnormal sensations of pain from normally non-painful stimuli).  They can have numbness, tingling, hypersensitivity and in some cases can have loss of recognition of their own limbs.  Sensory re-education is an important therapy with these deficits and Acupuncture can be a great addition in helping the body to “normalize” these signals again.  Neuropathic pain is especially tough to treat pharmaceutically, given that there is no physical or structural cause for the pain, the pain stems from the impaired response of the brain.  Through research studies and brain imaging, we’ve now learned that 

3. Speech and Swallowing Issues

Have you heard the word Aphasia?  Aphasia happens to about 1/3 of all Stroke survivors and as my speech therapist friends will tell you, “Aphasia is a loss of language, not of intellect.”  Just like you can have loss of connection to your limbs, you can also have a loss of connection to your language too.  This can be expressive (output of language) or receptive (input of language) or both.  A Stroke can also impact the muscles that help us to swallow (dysphagia), impairing our ability to eat and drink.

So can Acupuncture help with this?  More research needs to be done in this area to provide a definite answer, but in our practice, we have seen excellent results in this area.  If you’re seeing an Acupuncturist for speech and swallowing issues, they may choose to use Scalp Acupuncture.  Scalp Acupuncture is the insertion of needles into the tissue layer of the scalp to stimulate the brain neurons of the underlying area.  Scalp Acupuncture, although can sound a little scary, its considered to be very safe.  It works by stimulating the brain cells that are related to the impaired function.

More on Stroke and Acupuncture:

Strokes can leave huge deficits in their wake, impacting anything and everything from a person’s ability to talk, walk, swallow, eat, vision, balance, cognition and memory to name a few.  Rehabilitation can vary for these issues and depending on the severity of the stroke.  For some, rehabilitation may not be necessary, whereas for others rehabilitation may be a lengthy and ongoing process.

There have been a large number of systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials looking at the effects of Acupuncture in the management of Stroke recovery and rehabilitation. Many of these studies have been conducted in China and are published in Chinese journals. A study out of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe the grey matter of ischemic Stroke patients both pre and post Acupuncture.  The results showed that there were significant changes in the grey matter post Acupuncture.  We know that when we see structural change in the brain like this it usually translates to more functional recovery.

In Canada, using Acupuncture as a tool in post-stroke recovery is still relatively “new” and more studies are required. Ask us how Acupuncture Collective is helping to contribute to further research studies for Stroke rehabilitation and Acupuncture right here in Calgary!

If you’re considering using Acupuncture as a tool in your Stroke Recovery journey, we’d love to chat! Give us a call or email us and we can answer any questions you may have.  We’re happy to do a free consult with you to see if Acupuncture might be a fit in your Stroke recovery.