Acupuncture Research on Stroke Therapy
To Americans acupuncture may seem to be a new treatment for stroke, but in Asia it is quite well established.
There are hundreds of stroke studies from China and Japan, some involving large groups of patients, which show acupuncture’s efficacy in treating stroke. In fact, this is such a well-established procedure in Asia, that control groups are no longer used in acupuncture research studies on stroke patients as it is thought to be unethical to withhold acupuncture treatment from any stroke patient.
In the U.S., new stroke treatment research has demonstrated mixed results, with better designed and larger-scale studies needed.
A study carried out at the Lund University Hospital, Sweden (1) involved 78 patients with severe hemiparesis (paralysis of one side of the body) within 10 days of stroke onset. 40 patients received daily physiotherapy and occupational therapy, and 38 patients received acupuncture treatment twice a week for 10 weeks. Patients treated with acupuncture recovered faster and to a larger extent than the controls with significant differences in measures of balance, mobility, quality of life index, and fewer days spent at hospitals/nursing homes.
Another study published in 2004 in the official journal of the American Society of Neurorehabilitation, suggest that acupuncture provides “statistically significant” benefits in physical functioning and recovery when used as an new treatment for stroke in addition to conventional stroke rehabilitation measures. The study was conducted at the Daniel Freeman Rehabilitation Center’s inpatient stroke rehabilitation unit in Los Angeles. In the trial, 29 patients who had suffered a stroke within the previous 60 days that resulted in hemiparesis were randomized to either a control group or an acupuncture group. To ensure consistency, a standardized treatment protocol was used among all patients in the acupuncture group.
Researchers assessed aspects of physical performance in a person’s upper and lower extremities, along with a functional independence scale that evaluated a person’s ability to complete certain activities of daily living without assistance. While the average score of patients in the control group increased 8.5 points between baseline and discharge, the average score of acupuncture patients increased 11.2 points. In all, seven activities of daily living were measured on the scale, the average score of patients receiving acupuncture was between .1 and .8 points higher than control patients.
The authors noted that patients who received acupuncture as a new treatment for stroke in addition to standard rehabilitation demonstrated significantly greater improvement in tub/shower transfer mobility and a trend for greater improvement in toilet transfer mobility (2).
Research at the Shanghai Medical University in China revealed that early treatment (i.e. in the first three weeks) of acupuncture produces over 90% improvement whereas treatment commenced after three weeks gives 71% improvement rate. It is, therefore, important to seek early treatment whenever possible (3).
A Videofluoroscopic Swallowing Study (VFSS) was conducted to determine whether acupuncture, in conjunction with standard therapy, is a useful modality in post-stroke dysphagia. The researchers concluded that dysphagia symptoms as demonstrated on VFSS improved in patients treated with acupuncture as well as in controls. However, acupuncture patients achieved significantly greater swallowing function at the end of the study (4).
These studies, and many others, plus our clinical experience in working with stroke patients has convinced us that the best new treatment for stroke is acupuncture.
1. Johansson K; Lindgren I; Widner H; Wiklund I; Johansson BB. Can sensory stimulation improve the functional outcome in stroke patients? Neurology. 1993, Nov; 43 (11) p2189-92.
2. Clinical Rehabil. 1997 Aug;11(3):192-200.
3. Chen YM; Fang YA. 108 cases of hemiplegia caused by stroke: the relationship between CT scan results, clinical findings and the effect of acupuncture treatment. Acupunct. Electrother. Res 1990, 15 (1) p9-17.
4. Nowicki, N.C., Averill, A. Acupuncture For Dysphagia Following Stroke, Retrieved 04/13/07 fromhttp:// Medicalacupuncture.org , Vol.14 #3.