The Benefits of Adding Acupuncture to Stroke Recovery

An Overview of Scalp Acupuncture

When it comes to treatment of stroke and traumatic brain injury, a different approach combining oriental medicine and western medicine is used. This new approach led to a relatively new type of acupuncture called Chinese Scalp acupuncture. This contemporary technique integrates the use of acupuncture techniques with the medical knowledge of neurology.

Dr. Zhu traces the origizhus-scalp-acupuncturens of modern scalp acupuncture to the work of Huang Xuelong, who in 1935 introduced the concept that there is a relationship between the scalp and the cerebral cortex. Scalp acupuncture really got its start in the 1950s with the mapping correlating areas of the brain on the scalp. This took nearly 20 years. During the 1970’s, scalp acupuncture was developed as a more complete acupuncture system.  Three major contributors to the development of this system, Jiao Shunfa, Fang Yunpeng, and Tang Songyan each proposed different diagrams and groupings of scalp acupuncture points. In 1977 Scalp acupuncture was formally recognized in a national acupuncture text book Acupuncture and Moxibustion.

Today, Scalp acupuncture is not a single system, but a multiplicity of systems still in development both by the Chinese (Zhu) & the Japanese (YNSA), with a 30+ year history of practical experience. In the US, Prof. Zhu Mingqing (who migrated from Beijing to the U.S.) has developed a popular version of scalp acupuncture.  As a school of scalp acupuncture therapy, Zhu’s method is actually derived from the standard scheme [adopted in China] and based on the clinical experience of Zhu Mingqing. Even though this system of acupuncture is still in its infancy, a standard of nomenclature for acupuncture points has been developed indicating 14 therapeutic lines or zones based on a combination of the thoughts of the different schools of scalp acupuncture. From a western perspective these zones actually correspond to the cortical areas of the cerebrum and cerebellum that controls the central nervous system functions. Functions such as speech, vision, sensory input, motor activity, hearing and balance.

Benefits for Patients with Stroke or Traumatic Brain Injury

What does all of that mean for stroke and traumatic brain injury patients? It means that scalp acupuncturscalp-acupuncturee can successfully treat central nervous system disorders such as: paralysis, aphasia, loss of balance, dizziness, vertigo, and pain. Scalp acupuncture has the unique characteristic of being able to directly stimulate the areas of the brain that control the central nervous system and help repair existing damaged. For example, in a recent study Acupuncture has been shown to help increase the cerebral blood flow. There are also studies showing it helps patients abilities to recover faster. The acupuncture treatments also he
lp improve activities of daily living, the quality of life and mood, and overall emotional well-being.

A key note of using acupuncture for stroke recovery is timing and frequency. According to the Pacific College of Oriental medicine, the best results with scalp acupuncture are seen when treatment is administered as soon as the patient is stable. Another component to successful outcome is being able to receive treatments three or more times a week. Unfortunately, this can prove challenging for patients for a few reasons. There are very few stroke recovery centers that are aware of the use of acupuncture in stroke recovery. There are also very few stroke recovery centers that have an acupuncturist on staff to provide treatment as soon as the patient is stable. There is a lack of mobile acupuncture services able to bring treatment to patients in need. Lastly, the cost of treatment can play a factor because acupuncture is frequently not covered by insurance.

The use of acupuncture for stroke rehabilitation is not a new concept. Combining acupuncture and neurology is a new cutting edge concept. With that said the medical understanding of acupuncture in general is limited in the West and needs further study. Research, articles, and meta-analysis of the data can be conflicting.  If future compromises between the two areas of study can continue, then there will be more exciting breakthroughs in the future.



  1. Acupuncture: review and analysis of reports on controlled clinical trials, 2002, Geneva: World Health Organization,
  2. Synopsis of Scalp Acupuncture by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D. and Edythe Vickers, N.D., L.Ac., Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, OR
  3. Chinese Scalp Acupuncture by Jason Jishun Hao and Linda Lingzhi Hao, Blue Poppy Press, 2011
  4. The Effects of Acupuncture on Cerebral Blood Flow in Post-Stroke Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial by Ratmansky Motti, Levy Adi, Messinger Aviv, Birg Alla, Front Lilach, and Treger Iuly. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. January 2016, 22(1): 33-37. doi:10.1089/acm.2015.0066. Published inVolume: 22 Issue 1: January 15, 2016
  5. A Chinese Stroke Connection,” Stroke Connection Magazine, March/April 2006 (Last science update March 2013)
  6. Can Acupuncture Really Benefit Stroke Recovery? By Ming Qing Zhu, LAc, OMD (China) and Moyee Siu, LAc, MTCM, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine Blog 07/27/2015
  7. Acupuncture in Stroke Treatment by Russ Erickson, MD, American Academy of Medical Acupuncture
  8. Stroke and Acupuncture: The evidence for effectiveness by The British Acupuncture Council
  9. Additional effects of acupuncture on early comprehensive rehabilitation in patients with mild to moderate acute ischemic stroke: a multicenter randomized controlled trial by Lifang Chen, Jianqiao FangEmail author, Ruijie Ma, Xudong Gu, Lina Chen, Jianhua Li and Shouyu Xu; BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine BMC series, Published: 18 July 2016
  10. Does Acupuncture Work for Stroke Rehabilitation: What Do Recent Clinical Trials Really Show? By Samuel C. Shiflett, Page 40-58 | Published online: 18 Dec 2014

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