A stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), involves a sudden disruption to the blood supply to an area of the brain, resulting in a loss of function of the area in question. In most cases this disruption is due to a blood clot blocking one of the blood vessels supplying the brain – this is called an ischaemic stroke; in about 20% of cases the disruption occurs when a weakened blood vessel bursts – a haemorrhagic stroke. A related event is the transient ischaemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, in which the blood supply is only temporarily suspended and the symptoms caused usually resolve relatively quickly. A TIA may be a warning sign that a stroke is likely. In England, about 150,000 people have a stroke every year, and the condition is the largest cause of adult disability. The after effects of a stroke will depend on which parts of the brain have been damaged, and include:
- Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
- Co-ordination and balance problems
- Cognitive problems such as memory or concentration difficulties
- Communication problems, such as difficulty speaking
- Visual problems
- Psychological problems such as depression , anxiety and insomnia.
Stroke and TCM
TCM uses forms of treatment which have been used to treat stroke patients for thousands of years, and its approach is always individualised to the patient in question, depending both on how the stroke has affected them, and also on their constitution and general health. The aim is both to prevent another stroke occurring, and to promote recovery; in general, the sooner treatment commences after the stroke, the better.
Because of the holistic nature of TCM, in which there is no hard and fast distinction between mind and body, this treatment encompasses both physical and psychological effects of stroke, and aims to help both with specific problems and to enhance general health and wellbeing.
To give an example of how TCM helps with the specific problems encountered by stroke patients, in the case of weakness and paralysis on one side of the body, TCM usually views this as an obstruction of the flow of Qi in the meridians concerned, and aims to free up that flow, principally by acupuncture treatment to those meridians. Sometimes electro acupuncture is used to enhance the effect of treatment. Other acupuncture points can support this by promoting the smooth flow of Qi in general and targeting the obstruction.
Does it Work?
There has been a fair amount of research done on the use of TCM in stroke recovery. A recent (2010) meta-analysis and review1 of all of the research done on acupuncture to date concludes that it may indeed be an effective treatment for post-stroke rehabilitation.
Among other recent studies, one investigated the use of acupuncture in the treatment of post-stroke aphasia (loss of language skills)2, and used functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain. It showed that acupuncture can assist language recovery and may be associated with increased activity in the part of the brain controlling speech. Another3 found that acupuncture had an immediate effect on improving balance in stroke patients.
The British Acupuncture Council
Most TCM acupuncture practitioners in the UK are members of the British Acupuncture Council (www.acupuncture.org.uk), and will have the letters MBAcC after their names. This guarantees that they have undergone rigorous degree level training in acupuncture and Chinese Medicine and are fully qualified and insured to practice. All of the practitioners at our clinic are members of the British Acupuncture Council.
1. Acupuncture in poststroke rehabilitation: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials Stroke. 2010 Apr;41(4):e171-9
2. An fMRI study showing the effect of acupuncture in chronic stage stroke patients with aphasia. J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2010 Mar;3(1):53-7).
3. Acupuncture stimulation improves balance function in stroke patients: a single-blinded controlled, randomized study. Am J Chin Med. 2009;37(3):483-94