Can acupuncture help with swallowing difficulties following stroke/head injury

The use of acupuncture treatment to help after stroke is now becoming more greatly accepted, and as you can see from our review paper

https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/arrc/public-review-papers/stroke-and-acupuncture-the-evidence-for-effectiveness.html There has been considerable interest because in China it is not uncommon for people to begin  a course of acupuncture treatment within hours of a stroke in order to remobilise the energy of the body as quickly as possible.

The paper doesn't make much mention of dysphagia, though, and for that we have had to look at wider evidence sources. The best summary is here

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23000511.

A systematic review is a means of aggregating the results of many different trials and is seen as a very effective way of building up a wider picture than a small trial can offer. The results are encouraging, although as always there is criticism of the design studies and methodological rigour of many of the tests. This is usually to do with the fact that most studies are performed in China and are less concerned with whether acupuncture works - 2500 years of history says it does - than with what works better. We are still held to account for whether it works at all, which requires a very strict and not entirely appropriate trial design.

There was one rather interesting study published in  2016 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4810993/ which looks really encouraging but the technique describes pharyngeal acupuncture, and we doubt that you will find many UK practitioners either trained in this technique or willing to do it. There are also a growing number of practitioners using scalp acupuncture, for which there are two or three main systems, and great claims are made for their success in treating neurological problems, but here the research is very thin. If you can find someone who works with this method near where you live it may be worth having a chat with them.

We always advise prospective patients to visit a BAcC member local to them for a chat. Everyone is unique and different, and with cases like stroke recovery there are so many confounding factors that it is always best to find a way of getting a face to face assessment. There are no magic formulae to apply, but there are often signs which a practitioner can use to assess how well someone is likely to respond. This is invaluable for offering a prognosis.

From a Chinese medicine perspective there are many ways of regarding functional disturbances, and given the general agreement about what causes a stroke in energetic terms it is sometimes possible to track the functional disturbances which flow from this to the problems with swallowing in a way which offers direct treatment possibilities.

We are always cautious, however; the longer a symptom has been in place the more difficult it can be to move, a view shared with conventional medicine in looking at post-stroke recovery. If the problem arises from a head injury rather than an infarct, though, there may be good reasons to believe that acupuncture treatment may be able to help, however long after the injury a person is treated.

 

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