I have a clear memory as a child of my grandfather fumbling with the doorknob, trying to open the back door to leave, while I asked him a quick question. He sort of yelled back, confused and angry, and finally opened the door. This was very out of his character and confused me. He slowly walked toward his car in the driveway in an imbalanced way that made me concerned. I ran to my mother and soon enough the ambulance was there. He had a transient ischemic attack or a mini-stroke. Years later he died soon after surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. I think that initial fumbling with the simple task of opening the door years earlier was one of the signs that his cardiovascular system was compromised. I wonder now if some regular acupuncture to improve my grandfather’s circulation of blood could have helped him live a longer life.


Stroke is a Leading Health Concern


I witnessed a mini-stroke that day that was a momentary experience for my grandfather, but a full-blown stroke event is one of the leading causes of death in the US. One American dies every four minutes due to a stroke, one out of every twenty deaths. Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability. There may be resulting paralysis, speech and swallowing difficulty, pain and numbness, memory loss and depression. Blockage or narrowing of a blood vessel will disrupt blood flow to part of the brain, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die causing the resulting dysfunctions. Aside from blockage of a vessel, bleeding in the brain is the cause of the stroke 15% of the time. By arriving at the emergency room with three hours of the first symptoms, there is a greater chance of reduced disability after three months than those who have delayed care.


How Can We Improve the Recovery from a Stroke?


Treatment after stroke is focused on improving strength and regaining as much function as possible to return to independent living. The effects of the stroke are dependent on various factors, and rehabilitation will be aimed at dealing with any dysfunction that has occurred. Rehab may be done in the hospital before leaving, then continued at a skilled rehab facility, at an outpatient center, or at home.


There has been plentiful research from China and Japan in studying the effects of acupuncture for stroke recovery. In these studies, thousands of stroke victims have been observed using acupuncture. Acupuncture is known in Asian countries as a primary form of therapy to help minimize the long-term effects of a stroke, so it is a standard part of rehab. It is begun as soon as practically possibly after a stroke, though when the stroke is due to bleeding in the brain acupuncture may begin a couple weeks after the occurrence. The wait in this case is because of acupuncture’s effect in opening the blood vessels for better flow and decrease of clotting and inflammation. By securing the optimal blood flow as soon as possible after the stroke occurs, the damage may be reduced and the recovery may be quicker with less lasting disability.


A Course of Acupuncture Will Make a Big Difference


Daily acupuncture treatment is recommended for at least four weeks following the stroke. This may not be practical for some so three times a week for those first few weeks are advised for the maximum benefit from acupuncture. An hour is typically required for a treatment. Points on the scalp are commonly stimulated for general stroke rehabilitation. Specific scalp points are used for the various parts of the body affected by the stroke, including speech deficits. Also points will be used locally on the affected limb(s) to facilitate the regaining of motor and physical function. The acupuncture will help reestablish the disrupted communication between the brain and the limb. Sometimes electo-stimulation is added to the needles to facilitate this. Points are also used to treat accompanying depression, anxiety, or affected mental functioning.


Aside from international research and clinical evidence, my experience as an acupuncturist here has shown that adding acupuncture as early on as possible to the rehab plan, along with the Coumadin, physical, occupational, and speech therapies, will surely speed the recovery from a stroke. Please consider making this a part of the plan for your loved one to do all that can be done to recover effectively.