Can Acupuncture Help You Recover from a Stroke?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Acupuncture and stroke

Strokes can happen to anyone from birth through adulthood. There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

A stroke that happens when blood supply is no longer traveling to the brain is called an ischemic stroke. A stroke that happens when a blood vessel breaks or leaks in the brain is called a hemorrhagic stroke.

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No.172 - Pre-Sun Exposure

Both types of stroke are serious and, depending on the severity, can cause permanent damage. Rehabilitation is an important part of recovering from a stroke. As you may expect, rehabilitation options are vast and cover everything from physical activity to cognitive and emotional activities.

Some see acupuncture as a complement to traditional rehabilitation methods. Keep reading for more on the potential benefits and risks of getting acupuncture after a stroke.

What are the health benefits of acupuncture?

Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine and has been around for thousands of years. It involves the use of thin, single-use, stainless steel needles inserted into the skin by a licensed acupuncturist.

These thin needles are placed in specific areas of the body based on nerves, fascia, muscles, and tendons. For example, applying pressure to the “third eye point” between your eyebrows may relieve headache pain.

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Although acupuncture is primarily recognized as a natural treatment for chronic pain, its potential benefits extend far beyond that. It has been used to help improve sleeping patterns and digestion. The practice may also relax the body and mind and may relieve stress and anxiety.

What does the research say?

In one 2005 study, people who had experienced a stroke were given the chance to try acupuncture therapy. The goal of the therapy was to help relieve pain and discomfort due to the stroke.

Researchers found that participants who received acupuncture saw improvement in wrist spasticity and the range of motion in the wrist and shoulder.

Although people who received acupuncture did see more improvement when compared to those who didn’t receive it, the level of improvement wasn’t considered clinically significant.

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No.232 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

A more recent study suggests that acupuncture combined with exercise can be effective against shoulder pain resulting from stroke. Another study found that acupuncture can be helpful in early stages of stroke recovery by increasing blood flow to injured areas.

More research is necessary to determine whether acupuncture has a definitive effect on recovery from stroke.

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture works by increasing circulation of blood, relaxing muscles, and stimulating the production of neurotransmitters like endorphins and serotonin. This results in relaxation and pain relief.

If you’ve had a stroke, it’s important to reduce inflammation and increase the range of motion in your affected limbs.

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At your appointment, your acupuncturist will review your condition and discuss how they believe they can help you. They may look at your tongue for further information about your health and feel your pulse.

When it’s time for the treatment, you may be asked to lie down. Depending on the area your acupuncturist is going to treat, you may be face up, face down, or on your side.

Your acupuncturist will gently insert sterile, single-use needles at strategic points.

It’s likely that you’ll feel them inserting the needles, but you probably won’t feel any pain. During this time, your acupuncturist may add heat or massage to your treatment.

ishonest No.231 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

No.231 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

One session typically lasts 30 minutes. A typical course of acupuncture therapy requires up to 12 sessions. Some insurance companies cover the cost of acupuncture therapy, so be sure to speak with your insurance provider about your options.

Risks and warnings

Before seeing an acupuncturist, visit your doctor and discuss your desire to add acupuncture to your recovery plan. They can help you assess whether this is the best option for you. Most people can safely try acupuncture.

After consulting your doctor, research acupuncturists in your area. You want to ensure that they’re licensed and following all health codes.

Licensed acupuncturists in the United States have completed a minimum 3 years of graduate-level schooling and passed national board examinations to be able to practice acupuncture medicine.

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After your appointment, you may experience bleeding, bruising, or soreness at the insertion sites. This is a normal response to the process. If you begin experiencing any unusual symptoms, you should consult your doctor.

Alternatives to acupuncture

If you’re not a candidate for acupuncture or want to try traditional methods of care, you have many other options. Depending on your needs, you may receive inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation. This may include speech, occupational, and physical therapy.

These treatments may help you to regain the use of your speech, as well as the range of motion in your arms, legs, and hands.

If your brain was damaged during your stroke, you may also need to see a neurologist for further treatment.

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No.171 - Pre-Sun Exposure

It might also be helpful to speak with a therapist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. They can help you work through your feelings as you navigate your recovery.


Recovery can be challenging no matter what type of stroke you’ve had or how severe it was. Be open with your family and close friends about how you’re feeling so they can support you through your recovery.

Work with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you, and check in with them if a certain treatment isn’t having the desired effect.

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