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Atsuki Maeda, LAc, MTOM Headshot

Innovative Stroke Rehabilitation Acupuncture: The Benefits of Integrative Therapy

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The facts are on the table. Stroke continues to be a significant cause of death and disability in the U.S. According to the American Stroke Association, nearly 800,000 Americans have a new or recurrent stroke each year.

The ASA has been determinedly advocating for the enhancement of stroke care on behalf of stroke patients and those at risk. And while educational campaigns like Power To End Stroke have helped raise awareness about stroke prevention and potential risk factors, there are holes in the current health care system that need to be addressed.

As an acupuncturist in practice for more than 20 years, I am trained in the Xing Nao Kai Qiao stroke rehabilitation acupuncture therapy. I have seen some amazing results in stroke and dementia patients. The most successful case I had was a 45-year-old female stroke patient at Kuroda Hospital in Tokyo who suffered from a complete paralysis on the right side. She had difficulty speaking, a partially-dislocated shoulder, and she couldn't sit up straight when we started her rehabilitation. After three months of stroke acupuncture treatment, she was riding her bicycle to a nearby rehab center.

Mind you, not all patients I've worked with recover in this miraculous fashion -- results vary for each individual depending on the severity of the stroke, the affected area and the length of time since the onset. In general, with all treatment methods, including acupuncture, the rule of thumb is the sooner a patient receives the treatment, the better the chances of recovery.

In my private practice in Torrance, Calif., as well as at Emperor's College Acupuncture Clinic in Santa Monica, I see the progress post-stroke patients make in their recovery every day. Some patients who needed a walker or cane are able to walk again without any assistance. I've seen stroke survivors whose hands were tightly squeezed and immobile starting to loosen up slowly. Dementia patients that I've been treating tend to show gradual improvement in their cognitive function.

The Effectiveness of Xing Nao Kai Qiao Therapy

The Xing Nao Kai Qiao (XNKQ) acupuncture protocol was developed in the early 1970s by Dr. Shi Xue Min and his team at Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China. Studies have shown that XNKQ therapy significantly increases the recovery rate among stroke patients.

Having trained under Dr. Shi Xue Min, I know that the curative effect of XNKQ acupuncture therapy is partly due to its unique needling method and the specific, customizable point prescription that acupuncturists use to get the energy and blood moving. In fact, Xing Nao Kai Qiao translates to "awakening the brain and opening the orifices." But that's only half of the story: When I was working in the stroke rehabilitation unit at Kuroda Hospital in Tokyo, the Oriental medical department was integrated in the rehabilitation department. Patients benefited from the integrative care as physical therapists and occupational therapists worked alongside acupuncturists to enhance a patient's recovery.

After the onset of a stroke, during the recovery process, patients often show spasticity, a contraction of the muscle leading to restricted joint movement. As a result, physical therapists are limited to perform rehabilitation exercises, which in turn compromises a patient's recovery.

XNKQ acupuncture instantly decreases most spasticity and loosens up affected muscle groups, resulting in an increased range of motion. XNKQ therapy also helps strengthening muscles, allowing for a more stable movement. Rehabilitation becomes much easier and more effective for both therapists and patients.

Treatable Symptoms

  • Hemiplegia
  • Aphasia
  • Dyslalia & Aphagia (Difficulty swallowing)
  • Central Facial Palsy
  • Blindness
  • Shoulder pain & partial dislocation
  • Inversion of foot
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Constipation
  • Dysuria (Difficulty in urination)
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Decubitus (Pressure sore, Bed sore)
  • Cognitive disorder

The Power of Integrating Eastern and Western Medicine

The concept of an integrative medicine that capitalizes on the strengths of both Eastern and Western medicine is the standard in most Asian countries, particularly in China, where acupuncture has been practiced as part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

The First Teaching Hospital of Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China is a prime example of a first-class medical facility that has been on the forefront of promoting ground-breaking advancements in the true integration of Oriental medicine with biomedicine. The Xing Nao Kai Qiao stroke therapy, which was initiated at the hospital, recently gained recognition in the U.S. through the documentary "9000 Needles."

In the film, stroke victim Devin Dearth travels to China and successfully participates in the stroke rehabilitation program at the Tianjin hospital. The documentary reinforces the need for innovative approaches in stroke rehabilitation in the U.S. by showing the effectiveness of an integrative stroke rehabilitation program. "Devin would be the first to say that he'd much rather had received the acupuncture treatment in the U.S. -- if such an integrative treatment program would exist here," said Devin's brother Doug Dearth, who produced and directed "9000 Needles," at a recent screening that I attended.

Stroke Patients Have Power

My hope is that Devin's wish will become reality sooner than expected. The next step will involve stroke patients and caregivers. Without you, the acupuncture stroke therapy will not make it out of the doors of Oriental medicine clinics. You have the power to help promote this acupuncture protocol at Western medical hospitals, at rehab centers and in your local support group. By asking about integrative therapy options and demanding the best possible treatment plan to increase the chances of full recovery for you or your loved one, you can help fuel the conversation and create awareness about integrative stroke rehabilitation using acupuncture.

Atsuki Maeda, LAc, MTOM, is a licensed acupuncturist specializing in XNKQ acupuncture stroke therapy and Japanese acupuncture.