Acupuncture for Stroke

Some people think of acupuncture as a safe and natural healing method while others think of it as an eccentric new age idea.

The truth is that acupuncture has been around for thousands of years but has only recently been evaluated for medical conditions by the same rigorous standards used in western medicine.

Acupuncture for Stroke

A stroke can cause such severe deficits that survivors often search for every possible option to maximize neurological recovery.

Acupuncture is one of the alternative treatment methods that a growing number of stroke survivors are turning to.

Currently, few health insurance plans cover all or a portion of the cost of acupuncture for selected medical conditions. This means that there is a significant chance that you will end up paying for your acupuncture if you opt for that route. Also, most doctors are not familiar it with acupuncture and its effects on neurological function, so you will probably not be able to get a recommendation for an acupuncturist from your doctor. It is best to start searching by asking your doctor, but your physical therapist or speech therapist might be good resources to point you in the right direction.

Acupuncture and Swallowing Problems After Stroke

After a stroke, swallowing difficulties can be problematic and can even cause choking, which may be dangerous. So far, rehabilitation and physical therapy for the muscular swallowing problems caused by stroke are not entirely effective.

But a study that included 120 stroke survivors with swallowing problems compared patients who received swallowing training with patients who received both swallowing training and acupuncture. After 4 weeks, the two groups were compared by objective swallowing criteria including the Dysphagia Outcome Severity Scale, the Modified Barthel Index and Swallowing Related Quality of Life Scores.

The acupuncture/swallowing training group scored significantly better than the group who only received swallowing training without acupuncture. There were no side effects noted in either the acupuncture and swallow training group or the swallow training group.

This means that if you are having persistent swallowing problems after a stroke, acupuncture might be a safe and helpful option for you.


Spasticity is a type of muscle stiffness that occurs after a stroke.

Several research studies have evaluated acupuncture for treatment of spasticity after a stroke. Results published in the January 2015 issue of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine show that acupuncture compared with usual treatment or sham acupuncture (acupuncture deliberately injected in the wrong place for research purposes) significantly decreased spasticity after a stroke, especially in the wrist, knee and elbow.

Healing After a Stroke

A review article published in the March 2015 issue of the Journal Acupuncture Medicine examined a large database of scientific studies evaluating acupuncture's effect on stroke recovery.

The article authors concluded that overall, acupuncture seemed to be beneficial, but because the experiments were not all of the same quality, it is not certain that acupuncture is beneficial for stroke survivors.

So far, there isn't evidence that acupuncture helps prevent a stroke or helps to reduce the area of ischemic stroke damage in the brain. However, several high quality experiments evaluating acupuncture’s specific effects on swallowing and spasticity after a stroke are promising.

What You Should Know About Stroke and Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a type of eastern medicine that uses special needles, which are injected into targeted areas of the body to relieve symptoms and illnesses. Some of the consequences of stroke might indeed improve with acupuncture.

If you chose to explore acupuncture for therapy of your stroke symptoms, make sure to inform your doctor. Get references and make sure that your acupuncturist is certified and experienced.


Acupuncture for spasticity after stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, Lim SM, Yoo J, Lee E, Kim HJ, Shin S, Han G, Ahn HS, Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, January 2015 

Does the addition of specific acupuncture to standard swallowing training improve outcomes in patients with dysphagia after stroke? A randomized controlled trial, Xia W, Zheng C, Zhu S, Tang Z, Clinical Rehabilitation, March 2015

Effectiveness of acupuncture combined with rehabilitation for treatment of acute or subacute stroke: a systematic review, Vados L, Ferreira A, Zhao S, Vercelino R, Wang S, Acupuncture Medicine, March 2015

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