By David Martin, Doctor of Oriental Medicine (D.O.M.) and Acupuncture Physician
What I want you to know at the very start of this article is that the brain CAN recover—partially or fully– using Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. This can and is often done in concert with Western Medicine treatment. Often when the Western practitioners have done all they can, progress can continue using acupuncture. But most people do not know that acupuncture is highly effective in treating strokes, so you are now among the fortunate. And with more strokes potentially caused by the virus that has up-ended the world, it’s time to raise the level of awareness on this issue. Acupuncture can help stroke recovery! Pass it on!
Getting back to basics of the medical issue, the term “Wind Stroke” in Chinese Medicine corresponds in Western Medicine to Cerebral Vascular Accident which includes hemorrhage, embolism, thrombosis, or a spasm of a cerebral vessel. This condition is very complex, and the stroke is treated differently depending on how it manifests. Using the tools of both medicines may offer the most healing.
A HEALING STORY
One of my patients is an older fellow who had a stroke 8 months ago. In TCM diagnosis, it was an attack on his Meridian Channels. He received Western Medicine treatment alone for the first 6 months which did help. But eventually his progress stalled at about 4 months and he could not progress past his walker, and very limited use of that.
Then he found Lotus Blossom Clinic and I began seeing him as a regular patient. This man is very tenacious. He wouldn’t give up! He has come in weekly now for two months, and he alternates acupuncture and massage every other week at Lotus Blossom Clinic. And now, after two months, his tenacious nature is paying off. His dropped foot issue has diminished, his ability to walk has improved to the point where he can use a cane rather than a walker. He is able to do some Dorsey flection and Plantar flection with his ankle. Although not yet full range of motion, he is making clear progress.
So let’s look deeper into how the brain is diagnosed and heals, both from a neurological science perspective, and from the Eastern standpoint.
WHAT IS NEUROPLASTICITY?
The term “neuroplasticity” was first used by Polish neuroscientist Jerzy Konorski in 1948 to describe observed changes in neuronal structure (neurons are the cells that make up our brains), although it wasn’t widely used until the 1960s. – Positive Psychology.com
In layman’s terms, we are talking about the brain healing itself. This organ can move and shift, grow and heal on its own…or with help. When damage has occurred, the body and brain will do their best to repair the situation. The problem is that there is a limited timeframe when all systems are working most positively to repair and rewire the damage. And, the manner in which our brain connections work—our neuronal networks—is a use-it-or-lose-it system. For example, if after a stroke, a person’s leg no longer responds to their desire to move it, the patient often abandons trying to move the leg. If the signal is not attempted, the network will not rewire, and over time the damage becomes permanent. Sending intentional signals, e.g. trying to lift the leg, is one way the patient can help themselves. Getting acupuncture is another sure way to get that process moving!
HARNESSING NEUROPLASTICITY: THE ROLE OF ACUPUNCTURE
Acupuncture has been used for THOUSANDS of years for strokes. Take it from a practitioner who has seen hundreds of stroke patients over the last 20+ years. In my rough estimation, acupuncture has helped 90% of my patients. The ones it doesn’t seem to help are the oldest injuries. Always it is best to see an acupuncturist after a stroke as soon as possible to help acquire the best and quickest results. But there can be a long window of time where acupuncture is still effective to help on some level. I have seen results occasionally after 2-3 years post-stroke, although this is unusual.
HOW DOES CHINESE MEDICINE DEFINE AND WORK WITH STROKES?
If the stroke has had an effect on both the channels (meridians) and the internal organs, it is considered a severe type. The person loses consciousness, possibly is in a coma, and may experience aphasia and/or hemiplegia. Within the severe type there are two further categories, tense and flaccid. This refers to the effect the stroke has on the person.
If the channels alone are attacked, there is no loss of consciousness, or coma. The condition is defined by the channels that are attacked. If they are main channels you may have facial paralysis, hemiplegia, numbness of the limbs, limited movement, slurred speech. If the attack is on the connecting channels only, you may have numbness of the face and limbs along with slurred speech.
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) we treat these different sequela (Pathological conditions resulting from prior disease) differently. Now, let’s break down the treatments in the categories I just described.
INTERNAL ORGANS & THE BRAIN
Here is an example of a stroke which affects internal organs and the brain. If the stroke has also affected the stomach or the bowels, there are obvious and serious consequences possible. In an attack on the internal organs– in the Acute stage (immediately following the wind stroke)–the general guideline in treating this with acupuncture is to relieve the spasm, induce resuscitation, if needed, and lower the blood pressure. At this stage treatment is recommended every 6 hours. For the Tense type of stroke, the focus is on reducing the spasm. For the Flaccid type, the focus is on recapturing the Yang (ability to Move)
MERIDIAN (CHANNELS OF CONNECTIVITY)
The extremities, the face, the tongue, the eyes are the first places we check in TCM to see if someone has had a stroke…or is experiencing one right then. When the stroke attacks the channels alone, TCM is used to back up Western Medicine, and it is best if treatments start within a month. The general principles of treatment include removing obstructions (energetic blockages) from the channels, invigorating the connecting channels, regulating circulation of Qi (energy) and Blood in the channels, subduing “wind” (nerves) and resolving phlegm (anything that clogs) using acupuncture and herbs.
There are also specific treatments for the effects of hemiplegia, aphasia, hypertension, facial paralysis, dizziness, rigidity and contraction of muscles. Both acupuncture and herbal remedies are used to treat stroke. Often people do not think about the herbal medicine, but it is quite effective.
GET TREATMENT AS SOON AS YOU CAN
The ancient tools of acupuncture and herbs work very effectively in the human brain, and they have been used for thousands of years. The techniques and their effects also can work in concert with, Western Medicine which is often most helpful at the beginning stages. Acupuncture and herbs can often continue to help in the later stages, a longer time post-incident.
Treatment of stroke is always more successful if you get treatment early. After the body becomes accustomed to the loss of mobility or damage, it is more difficult to get good results. I have had patients get positive results even after 2 or 3 years. This is long after Western Medicine has given up and told them that they won’t get better. However the rule still stands that sooner is better to begin acupuncture.
Dr. David & Deb Martin
…and all the Practitioners at Lotus Blossom Clinic
Serving the Greater Fort Myers area with Natural and Holistic Medicine, including Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Massage, Science-backed Food as Medicine, Energy & Transformational Sessions…and over 30 monthly Community Classes & Events!
The Practice of Chinese Medicine – The Treatment of Disease with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs. By Giovanni Maciocia- Published Churchill Livingstone 1994