I had a stroke 7 years ago. It was due to a blood clot in the
brain. I am making a good recovery, but I am curious to know if
acupuncture would benefit me.
Tim, the best time to get acupuncture for stroke is immediately
afterwards - ideally while still in the hospital, if the docs
will allow it. Seven years is a long time to wait for acupuncture.
But it still may help you
You won't know unless you try
Usually scalp style acupuncture is used for stroke. Needles are
"threaded" along the scalp underneath the skin. There
are at least three different scalp systems (Dr. Jiao Shun Fa's
original style from the 1970s, Dr. Zhu's, and Dr. Yamamoto's styles).
Call local acupuncturists and find out if they have experience
with scalp acupuncture.
More information on the 3 types of scalp acupuncture
How Many Treatments?
It may take 10-20 treatments to get results. In China, they treat
patients every day. That's not financially realistic here, but
2 or 3 times per week is good. In your case - after 7 years -
it may take sustained and intense stimulus to make a change.
You can also take herbal formulas to balance out the constitutional
issues that led to the stroke, and help repair the damage. Acupuncture
can be combined with physical rehab. It can improve both motor
function (ability to move muscles) and sensory (ability to feel).
You may recover function to some degree, but in more serious strokes
there may be no response.
Will it Work for Me?
It's hard to say whether an individual will respond and how much-
partner with the acupuncturist - they will get to know you case
thoroughly, integrate what they're doing with your other medical
providers. See the acupuncturist until you hit a plateau. Then
your acupuncturist may try another system or strategy.
Stroke and Acupuncture Research
What's clear from several studies is that very severe stroke
patients may be less likely to respond to acupuncture. This issue
has not been thoroughly researched. Typically, American researchers
have used inadequate acupuncture (style, points, and frequency
of treatments). They conduct and review studies using points that
Chinese acupuncturists would not use, and then conclude that acupuncture
doesn't work. I say, "No, it's your brain that doesn't work,
because you don't do a thorough literature review before designing
As James Rotchford, MD, (a medical doctor and acupuncturist who
has reviewed hundreds of acupuncture research studies and reviews
on his website, www.acubriefs.com) mentions below, there are many
approaches within acupuncture. Scalp styles (there are 3 - who
knows which is most effective when - a good research topic) appear
to be best for neurological conditions like stroke, MS, and post-concussion
syndrome. To study body acupuncture points for stroke demonstrates
unfamiliarity with the work that has been done thus far.
Is the acupuncture (style, points, and frequency of treatments)
studied in most research considered the most effective kind by
It is not.
Why study acupuncture points and styles that clinicians themselves
don't think work?
Three possibilities come to mind:
- Arrogance: "Even though Chinese have been doing
acupuncture for thousands of years, they don't know anything
about it." This isn't so implausible - mainstream American
docs and researchers already ignore European research - why
not Chinese, too? If their methodology differs from the drug-model,
it's because they aren't as advanced as us. And if we disagree
with the results, the methodology is criticized. Otherwise,
it's fine. Psychological studies of the research review process
have proven this bias.
- Idiocy: It's hard to imagine that someone smart enough
to do research isn't smart enough to read the literature, but
I suppose it's possible, or
- Conspiracy: "Let's do the wrong acupuncture on
purpose so we have proof that acupuncture doesn't work."
This would be fool's work, since there is already incontrovertible
evidence that it does.
If the studies suck, then why review them?
Because a review of multiple studies carries more weight than
just one study. It's easier to convince people with a review.
The major issue with research reviews is that if the studies
were inadequate in the first place, then the review's conclusions
will be wrong. Until the methodology and study designs are improved,
what's the point?
Again, we suggest researchers review the Chinese medicine literature.
Rotchford advocates outcome studies rather than drug-style RCT's.
In outcome studies, no placebo is used, but there is no satisfactory
placebo for acupuncture research.
When acupuncture studies are done well, why aren't the results
Rotchford says, "Dr. Naeser has shown that the extent of
CT demonstrated destruction does make a distinct difference in
response to acupuncture. Why are Western studies equivocal when
those from China and Japan so heavily support a role for acupuncture
treatment in thousands of cases?
- "First, the acupuncture approach is different. In the
Orient, acupuncture is done daily to twice daily for maximum
stimulation of the nervous system. Various experts recommend
treating 3 times weekly as a minimum; more would be better.
- "Second, Western studies use standard major Yang Ming
and Shao Yang points. Chinese studies indicate that using scalp
points alone or in addition to provide a stronger input. A newer
approach, Xingnao Kaiqiao (A consciousness awakening), generated
by Dr. Shi Xuemen and co workers, appears extremely attractive.
They treat PC 6, GV 26, SP 6, BL 40, HT 1 (a bit distal to the
usually designated point), LU 5, and LI 4 in sequence each to
the point of tears (GV 26) and muscle jerking. In a series of
3200 patients, an essential cure is claimed in 58% and 90% effective
improvement to the point of reasonable self sufficiency. Other
points are added for pseudobulbar palsy, where good results
are reported in over 300 patients. Comparing this technique
to traditional Yang points and to scalp acupuncture, they denote
excellent results in 76% versus 36%.
"I suggest a study such as done by Johansson's group, using
Xingnao Kaiqiao, and with treatment given at least 5 days a week.
Third, we must consider Qi transmission from healer to patient
in any therapy, especially in acupuncture. I believe intent is
essential; and the intensity of interest and empathy might create
a much improved healing. Considering this, the background and
training of the involved acupuncturists in a study should be noted."
- from his review of "Acupuncture For Dysphagia Following
Stroke." (see link below)
So, the people doing acupuncture research don't study Chinese
medical acupuncture, but rather their own strange version of it
- who knows where it comes from. I have no idea who's teaching
them (are they teaching themselves?), or what books they are reading,
if any. I'm not usually so bluntly critical of people's work,
but as a body of work, I'd say that American acupuncture research
has earned the distinction of being mostly useless.