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Acupuncture for Stroke

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Updated May 01, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Some research suggests that acupuncture may benefit people who have suffered stroke, a medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to your brain is suddenly cut off or when a blood vessel in your brain bursts. A type of needle-based alternative therapy long used in traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture may help treat several of the disabilities that commonly occur in people who have experienced a stroke.

Benefits of Acupuncture for Stroke Patients

To date, there is a little scientific support for the effectiveness of acupuncture in treatment of conditions caused by stroke. For instance, a 2006 review of five trials (with a total of 368 patients) concluded that "there is no clear evidence on the effects" of acupuncture for stroke rehabilitation. However, several small studies indicate that acupuncture may be of some benefit to stroke patients. Here's a look at their findings:

1) Acupuncture and Balance Function in Stroke Patients

Acupuncture may boost balance in people who have suffered a stroke, according to a 2009 study of 30 patients. After undergoing a single acupuncture treatment, study participants showed improvements in balance function (as well as in muscle strength).

2) Acupuncture for Upper-Extremity Rehabilitation in Stroke Patients

In a 2005 study of 33 stroke patients with chronic hemiparesis (weakness on one side of the body), researchers tested the effects of up to 20 acupuncture sessions over an average of 10.5 weeks. While acupuncture failed to improve upper-extremity function or quality of life in the study participants, some subjects did experience gains in motor function over the course of the study.

3) Acupuncture for Spastic Dyskinesia in Stroke Patients

A study published in 2007 shows that acupuncture may help treat spastic dyskinesia (difficulty in performing voluntary movements), a common problem among stroke patients. The study involved 96 stroke patients, all of whom underwent one acupuncture session. Study results suggest that acupuncture may significantly improve spastic dyskinesia, as well as enhance daily functioning.

Should You Use Acupuncture for Stroke Rehabilitation?

Due to the lack of research, it's too soon to recommend acupuncture for stroke rehabilitation. If you're interested in using acupuncture to treat conditions caused by stroke, talk to your doctor when and how to begin treatment. In using acupuncture for stroke rehabilitation, it's important to work with a qualified medical acupuncturist.

Sources:

Hai Y, Yu X. "Observation on therapeutic effect of acupuncture on spastic dyskinesia due to stroke." Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2007 27(10):735-7.

Hopwood V, Lewith GT. "Does acupuncture help stroke patients become more independent?" J Altern Complement Med. 2005 11(1):175-7.

Liu SY, Hsieh CL, Wei TS, Liu PT, Chang YJ, Li TC. "Acupuncture stimulation improves balance function in stroke patients: a single-blinded controlled, randomized study." Am J Chin Med. 2009;37(3):483-94.

Park J, Hopwood V, White AR, Ernst E. "Effectiveness of acupuncture for stroke: a systematic review." J Neurol. 2001 248(7):558-63.

Wayne PM, Krebs DE, Macklin EA, Schnyer R, Kaptchuk TJ, Parker SW, Scarborough DM, McGibbon CA, Schaechter JD, Stein J, Stason WB. "Acupuncture for in chronic stroke: a randomized sham-controlled study." Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2005 86(12):2248-55.

Wu HM, Tang JL, Lin XP, Lau J, Leung PC, Woo J, Li YP. " Acupuncture for stroke rehabilitation." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 19;3:CD004131.

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