If you’re exploring acupuncture for stroke recovery, please pull up a chair, because things are about to get interesting.
Although the studies are mixed, acupuncture may help you improve movement after stroke and reduce sensory issues like numbness, tingling, and pain.
These benefits are not guaranteed – but if you’re interested in the possibility, let’s dig into the hard science behind this alternative stroke recovery treatment.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture is an ancient practice that originated over 2,500 years ago in China.
It’s one part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which involves a mind/body approach to wellness. (Other popular practices include Chinese herbs and moxibuston.)
During an acupuncture session, a practitioner will insert thin, sterile needles into your skin along specific meridians. Sometimes these needles are heated or stimulated with electricity after insertion.
(This means that if you have a pacemaker, you need to tell your acupuncturist!)
The general consensus is that acupuncture does not hurt, but you can feel the sensation when the needle first goes in. While it might sound freaky, even WebMD considers acupuncture safe – so don’t fret.
Does Acupuncture Have a Place in Stroke Recovery?
The extra stimulation from acupuncture may give your brain the stimulation it needs to recover some function.
One possible explanation is that acupuncture provides stimulation to the affected parts of the body. This makes your brain aware of the lost connection and encourages reconnection.
This reconnection will happen through neuroplasticity, the mechanism your brain uses to rewire and reorganize itself. After stroke, neuroplasticity allows the healthy parts of the brain to “pick up the slack” from the damage.
While repetition is the best way to activate neuroplasticity, different therapies that provide extra stimulation to the body can help speed the process along.
This is one reason why electrical stimulation is effective for stroke recovery – and some acupuncturists even apply electrical stimulation to the needles during treatment.
This may provide a boost in mobility.
Acupuncture May Help Improve Movement After Stroke
If you’re trying to improve movement after stroke, then acupuncture might be able to help.
The studies are very mixed, however. For example, this study concluded that the positive effects of acupuncture for stroke recovery was just a placebo effect.
Other studies have shown a positive correlation between acupuncture and improved mobility.
Specifically, stroke patients who participate in both acupuncture and rehabilitation exercises see significantly better results than those who just do rehab exercises alone.
So if you decide to try acupuncture for stroke recovery, be sure to pair it with an effective home exercise program for the best results.
Most stroke patients don’t just need help with mobility, though. Some need to overcome sensory issues, too, and acupuncture may still help!
Numbness or Tingling May Also Improve with Acupuncture
Sensory issues after stroke may involve numbness, tingling, or pain. It can be a confusing stroke side effect to deal with, and acupuncture provides some hope.
This study showed that acupuncture combined with exercise is effective for treating post stroke shoulder pain. (Notice the importance of combining exercise with acupuncture…)
While there aren’t many clinical trials on acupuncture for other sensory problems after stroke, we have heard through word of mouth that it can help.
Some stroke patients have seen improvement in their numbness/tingling after stroke with acupuncture, and others haven’t.
This shows that everyone responds to acupuncture differently, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll see the same results as someone else.
While it’s a gamble, it could be worth a try if you’re desperate for a solution.
Acupuncture for Stroke: Should You Try It?
So, if you’re anxious for a way to boost movement improvement or sensory reeducation, why not give it a shot?
The studies are conflicting likely because everyone responds to acupuncture differently.
We have heard from patients who saw zero results with acupuncture and patients who said that acupuncture was the game-changer!
You won’t know how it will affect you until you try. Good luck!