Stroke Rehabilitation and Traditional Chinese Medicine

In addition to being the third leading cause of death in the U.S., strokes are a leading cause of serious long-term disability.  About 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, and almost half of those who survive are permanently disabled.  The significant physical, cognitive and psychological impairments that are many times the lasting result of a stroke create major medical and social problems.

According to the National Stroke Association, there are nearly 4 million people in the United States who have survived a stroke and are living with the after-effects. Although this is a startling number it does not reflect the scope of the problem and does not count the millions of husbands, wives and children who live with and care for stroke survivors and who are, because of their own altered lifestyle, greatly affected by stroke.

Based on conventional Western medical treatments the majority of gains in a patient’s ability to function in the first 30 days following a stroke are due to spontaneous recovery.  Those gains are dependant on how early rehabilitation begins, the extent of the brain injury, the attitude of the patient, the skill and availability of treatment and the cooperation of family and friends.

In the current medical climate, the type and amount of stroke rehabilitation a patient receives is many times dictated by insurance offerings, yet medical practitioners are in agreement that an all-inclusive rehabilitation program provides the best chance of meaningful recovery.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine identifies more than 2000 acupuncture points connected to pathways called meridians that conduct vital energy throughout the body.  Through a holistic approach TCM works with the patient to restore and maintain an optimum state of health. Many patients have experienced treatments that provided long lasting and effective remedies for chronic conditions that did not respond to other available therapies.

Many studies have been done for post-stroke patients to speed rehabilitation using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapy such as Acupuncture, Herbs, Tuina Anmo (Chinese Massage) and Qigong (Energy Healing).

Acupuncture Therapy

In acupuncture the TCM physician or Acupuncturist inserts one or more fine needles into the patient’s body to adjust the energy flow. Acupuncture points are like traffic lights on the city street. The TCM physician or Acupuncturist utilizes the needles just like traffic lights to control traffic flow.

Studies have shown that rehabilitative treatment including acupuncture within the first three weeks of a stroke produces significantly better results for patients in regaining function than treatments that do not include acupuncture.

Herbal Therapy

Hundreds of different herb formulas are used to treat different diseases and conditions. Studies have shown that when herbal formulas are also used in treatment, the majority of patients reported a significant improvement in symptoms.  No obvious side effects have been noted as a result of treatment when using the herbs.

Tuina Anmo (Chinese Massage) Therapy

Tuina Anmo is the Chinese term for bone setting, muscle and joint manipulation and massage. Tuina Anmo may be used in all areas of trauma, internal medicine, surgery, gynecology and pediatrics.

Qigong (Energy Healing) Therapy

Qigong is a method to exercise the body’s vital energy. It combines body movement, breath, exercise and mind concentration. Qigong uses body movement to conduct the Qi (vital energy) to the place in which the mind concentrated. At the same time different breath techniques are applied depending on the exercise purpose.

Integrative Therapy of Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine

Integrative therapy, utilizing both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine together, provides the best benefit for stroke rehabilitation. The Kansas College of Chinese Medicine and Wesley Rehabilitation Hospital recently completed a study to determine the therapeutic effects in the functional recovery of post-stroke rehabilitation patients between conventional multidisciplinary western rehabilitation programs versus integrating acupuncture with conventional multidisciplinary western rehabilitation programs. Patients treated with acupuncture improved more than those not receiving acupuncture with respect to self-care, mobility, cognition and discharge placement.

In China, hospitals integrate conventional and traditional medicine to treat stroke patients. Emergency room care is identical to that found in the United States, but once leaving the ER, treatment is quite different. In addition to taking Chinese herbs, body/scalp acupuncture makes up an important part each patient’s treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a stroke rehabilitation program?
Most programs consist of an initial consultation and a sequence of treatments. Through the initial consultation, the doctor will examine the condition of the patient and develop a treatment plan. Not all patients require acupuncture. However, most patients will need integrative treatments that include Acupuncture, Herbal therapy, Qigong therapy and massage. Patients utilizing this approach receive an intensive integrative treatment that provides 4-5 hours of daily therapy at a cost of about $5,600 per month.

How soon will improvements be seen?
There is no set recovery pattern for stroke patients. In some cases, the effects of the acupuncture treatment cannot be immediately measured and it could be days or weeks before the results are assessable.

How many treatments are required?
It varies according to the condition but usually three to five treatments per week from one month to six months is recommended. For best results, treatment should begin as soon as the patient has stabilized. However, substantial gains can be made at any stage of recovery.

Why are so many treatments necessary?
Stoke patients are often in a weakened condition and cannot tolerate one massive stimulation. Post-stroke treatments must be carefully regulated to a level the patient can build upon. One analogy that can be made to this therapy is gardening: the doctor must carefully cultivate the new patterns of sensation in the patient. The treatment is the cumulative effect of many small awakenings.

Does post-stroke therapy work?
Acupuncture therapy after stroke has helped thousands of stroke patients. Research led the National Institute of Health to conclude in 1997 that acupuncture benefits stroke recovery. In the 1950s, Chinese government researchers demonstrated that acupuncture treatments accelerate stroke rehabilitation, and today, the research has developed into well-established hospital treatment plans. The Chinese medical schools even have special programs to train doctors integrating western neuroscience and eastern acupuncture. In America many health care providers now recognize the value of these treatments and include them with conventional therapy.

Article Copyright 1999 Qizhi Gao

Finding a TCM Practitioner

TCM treatments for stroke rehabilitation program are provided by Evergreen Wellness Center located in Wichita and Overland Park, Kansas. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

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