Acupuncture For Stroke

Acupuncture For Stroke

A stroke is an issue with the blood and brain connection. There are 2 types of strokes, ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke is where the blood stops traveling into your brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is where one or more of the blood vessels in the brain leak, flooding the brain tissue with blood. 

Strokes can come in a wide variety of severity levels, but it is very likely that you will need to undergo a rehabilitation period after one. Some strokes will cause temporary damage while others will cause lasting physical and mental impacts. 

Many people choose to undergo a variety of treatment methods following a stroke in an attempt to return to their normal lives. It is estimated that around 46% of stroke victims choose to undergo alternative and complementary medical practices during their recovery.

Acupuncture is a commonly chosen alternative healing method. 

What Is Acupuncture?

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Acupuncture is a technique that forms a staple part of traditional Chinese medicine. It should only be performed using single-use stainless steel needles and by a licensed and qualified acupuncturist. Practitioners believe that contained within our bodies is something known as qi or vital life force energy.

It is believed that this energy flows around the body through meridian lines. 

Stagnant or blocked qi energy is said to lead to illness, pain, and disease. Acupuncture is the practice of inserting fine, sterile needles into the skin at certain specific points. These are located along the meridian lines and can allow the qi to flow more smoothly through the body. 

How Does Acupuncture Work? 

The insertion of needles into the body has been proven to increase blood circulation around the body. It can force tight and tense muscles to relax, allowing for a decrease in pain levels. The needles can also stimulate the production of endorphins, serotonin and other neurotransmitters.

These can ease stress, relax the body, and reduce overall pain levels. These are all important things for the body of a stroke sufferer. 

The overall acupuncture session is likely to last around 30 minutes. Generally speaking, your acupuncturist will ask you to book in for a course of 12 sessions. You will need to contact your insurance provider to find out if they cover acupuncture sessions, as not all companies do. 

What Is Electroacupuncture?

Electroacupuncture

This is a form of acupuncture treatment where electrical stimulation is sent through the acupuncture needles once they have been inserted into your body. Traditional electrical stimulation is a common therapy treatment for stroke victims, allowing them to reduce muscle spasticity.

Traditionally, this stipulation comes through large pads that are placed in direct contact with the surface of your skin. 

Electroacupuncture is believed to be more effective as you can target specific muscles and regions of muscles through the placement of the acupuncture needle. 

Why Use Acupuncture As Part Of Stroke Rehabilitation?

There has been a lot of research conducted into the effects of acupuncture on stroke victims. A 2005 study showed that acupuncture moderately improved wrist spasticity and overall range of motion in the shoulders and wrists. 

A 2009 study showed that acupuncture treatments can improve balance in stroke victims. This then means that the fall risk of the patients is greatly reduced. 

Another 2009 study proved that the use of electroacupuncture localized to the legs can improve muscle strength. This treatment was undergone at a rate of 5 times a week for a period of 2 weeks. 

A 2012 study into specifically shoulder pain following a stroke also proved the positive impacts of acupuncture. This study showed that acupuncture is most effective as a rehabilitation treatment when combined with mild exercise. 

A 2017 study into rehabilitation from ischemic strokes proved the effectiveness of acupuncture in the early stages of stroke recovery. This is because it increases the blood flow to the impacted areas, allowing for a better recovery. 

Another 2017 study showed the positive impacts of acupuncture when treating post-stroke paralysis. This study specifically involved patients suffering from hemiplegia, a stroke that impacts one side of the body.

The addition of the acupuncture therapy to traditional medical drug intervention improved the positive patient outcome rate by 11.77%.

Dysphagia

This is a common condition following a stroke where the victim has trouble swallowing. This can make eating and drinking very difficult, not to mention dangerous. This often leads to aspiration and choking which can easily and quickly become fatal. 

A 2012 study of 6,779 stroke victims compared 6 separate treatments for dysphagia. This study concluded that there was some evidence acupuncture therapy reduces dysphagia, although it is unclear why.   

Spasticity

This is another common condition following a stroke. Spasticity is the stiffness of the muscles and their involuntary contractions. This can be a massive hindrance to daily life and can become dangerous in some instances. 

A 2017 report in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation collated 22 earlier studies into electroacupuncture and stroke-related spasticity. This report divulged that the combination of traditional stroke rehabilitation and electro-acupuncture can reduce spasticity in the limbs.

This acupuncture therapy must be conducted within 6 months of the stroke for the effects to be seen. 

Are There Any Risks?

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There are a few risks associated with acupuncture therapy, but not too many. The most likely downside to the therapeutic treatment is that you will develop bleeding or bruising where the acupuncture needles were inserted. There is also a small risk of infection as a foreign body is piercing your skin.

Provided you visit a licensed practitioner, the needles will be properly sterilized and the risk of this happening is low. 

Many people report feelings of intense relaxation or tiredness following an acupuncture session. This can make it dangerous to drive or operate heavy machinery for the first hour or so following a treatment. 

As with all healing processes, there’s a strong possibility that your condition may worsen a little before it improves. In this case, you may feel an increase in your pain levels after an acupuncture session, although over time it will reduce your overall pain levels. 

Before you visit an acupuncturist it is important to check with your doctor. While acupuncture is a fairly safe procedure, it is always advised to double-check with a qualified medical professional. Once you have been given the all-clear from them, you should then seek out a reputable acupuncturist.

It may be tempting to look for low-cost acupuncture therapy, although we strongly advise against this. 

You should only seek out acupuncture therapy from practitioners with a license. In the United States, this means that they have undergone at least 3 years of graduate training. They will also have to have passed board examinations to qualify and gain their license. 

If you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system, it is not recommended that you undergo acupuncture therapy. People taking warfarin and other blood thinners, people with blood disorders (such as hemophilia), and people who have a pacemaker are also not advised to have acupuncture treatment. 

What Are Some Alternatives To Acupuncture Therapy? 

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There are a number of rehabilitation methods that you can engage in following a stroke. Many are more traditional than acupuncture and are likely to be recommended first by your doctor or physician.

The rehabilitation method you opt for will also vary according to the severity of your stroke and the physical and mental impacts it has had on your life. 

Some common rehabilitation treatments include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. These are more traditional and will involve you regaining your speech and motor skills with the assistance of a trained professional. 

Depending on how serious your stroke was, your care team may include a neurologist. This is a brain specialist and will help give you additional support through the recovery period. 

You may choose to try acupressure therapy. This works on the same principles as acupuncture but in a non-invasive manner. Instead of inserting needles into your body, your acupressurist will use the pressure of their hands, fingers, and knuckles to work different regions of the body.

This has been proven to be effective and many people prefer the non-invasive nature. 

If you are more keen on sticking to the holistic, natural approach to recovery then you may want to consider incorporating medicinal herbs into your diet. These will not help your brain to repair but can alleviate some of the secondary symptoms you are experiencing such as depression, fatigue, and pneumonia.

With these gone, it can allow your body to spend more time and energy focusing on returning to health. This can potentially speed up your recovery period. 

Regardless of the severity of your stroke, it is likely to have left you with some psychological trauma as well as physical effects. Trauma can lead to a lot of knock-on effects, and we would strongly recommend visiting a therapist or psychiatrist.

These are trained mental health professionals who can assist you with the unpacking of your trauma, and learning how to move past it in your life. 

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