Science has confirmed the efficacy of acupuncture in helping stroke survivors to recover more quickly, with a trial showing improved functions that were disrupted by an acute ischemic stroke.
Millions of stroke survivors do not get treatment quickly enough and experience the full range of negative conditions. Patients who undergo extensive rehabilitation with stroke have a better chance of surviving the stroke, and a likelier to retain independence with better bodily functions. Rehabilitation programs for stroke survivors in China include acupuncture sessions, with electroacupuncture and scalp acupuncture being the two most commonly used methods.
Acupuncture use to treat stroke and associated problems is a divisive topic among experts as some studies indicate it is ineffective and others report it exerted limited positive effects on stroke patients during rehab. Such conflicting reports inspired Zhejiang Chinese Medical University researchers to conduct a high quality clinical study with significant statistical power, seeking to determine if acupuncture could improve neurological problems, motor dysfunctions, swallowing issues, and cognitive impairment caused by acute ischemic stroke.
A large group of hospitalized patients due to acute ischemic stroke and paralysis on one side of the body were recruited to conduct this study. These 250 patients received either standard rehabilitation treatment which involved 2 hour periods of physiotherapy and occupational therapy for 6 days each week for three weeks; or acupuncture treatment sessions for 30 minutes 6 days a weeks along with the conventional treatment. Assessment of primary and secondary outcomes occurred at the beginning of the trial, first and third weeks of the trial, and again seven weeks after the trial.
Primary outcome was a neurological deficit, secondary outcomes were motor function of upper extremities, swallowing function, and cognitive function. Safety of acupuncture based on adverse reaction experienced by patients was also evaluated.
The group receiving acupuncture treatment were observed to display significantly better neurological functions, improved function of lower extremities, swallowing, and cognitive function, no improvements in upper extremities were noted and when taken into consideration overall motor function score did not show much improvement.
Upper extremities involve fine motor skills which are theorized to require higher level of recovery than that which is provided by acupuncture. Acupuncture is believed to improve stroke related neurological deficit through different aspects as it greatly improved swallowing functions. Adverse reaction did develop in a few cases in response to acupuncture which were mild and posed no danger to the patients which suggests the treatment is safe enough to be routinely used.
Based on their findings the researchers suggest that acupuncture could be considered to be a multi-effect treatment having shown it can assist recovery of different neuroprotective, microcirculatory, and metabolic systems that were affected by the stroke.
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