Can acupuncture improve your walking after stroke? It seems to be the case, and here is how it works.

April 1, 2018

For thousands of years, acupuncture has been successfully used for treating many types of maladies. Because of this, researchers from China were curious if acupuncture could help people who suffered an intracranial hemorrhage (ICH). ICH is a type of stroke which involves bleeding in the brain.

Gait analysis is the procedure of recording and interpreting mechanical measurements of walking to make a diagnosis for treatment. The measurements also help in setting goals and monitoring stroke rehabilitation among other conditions that affect gait. The three-dimensional gait analysis (3D-GA) is the current gold standard for quantifying gait abnormalities.

The researchers of this study wanted to test whether acupuncture could help ICH patients improve their walking pattern using a 3D walking analysis system.

The study of acupuncture

Thirty patients participated in this study with 15 in the treatment group and 15 in the non-treatment group (control group). Researchers tested walking ability via 3D analysis in both groups before and after the therapy period. For participants who received treatment, the therapy lasted thirty minutes. An acupuncturist placed four tiny needles safely and strategically on the scalp near the center of the head and next to the eye. The therapist twisted each needle for 5 minutes and rested for 5 minutes in between three rounds of treatment. The needles remained in place for the walking analysis portion of the study.

Consequently, the results were impressive in that the patients who had acupuncture showed an improvement in their step length and velocity, and a tendency towards decreased double-limb support time, though the last was not statistically significant. However, there were no substantial changes in cadence (timing) and step width. Also, the time that the foot rested on the ground decreased. The forward tilt of the pelvis was reduced which made the walking appear more normal. An increase in hip extension yielded higher walking speeds. This hip extension helped the leg swing backward farther, too.

Additionally, scalp acupuncture included improved blood flow to the brain in areas that involved coordination and movement of the muscles. The better the coordination, the better the gait appears. Acupuncture to the head is worth trying. Although the thought of needles makes many people squeamish, patients report only a minimal discomfort level.


Lead author of this study is Dr. Wang from the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, South Campus, Ren Ji Hospital, School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai, China.

Editorial note:

Acupuncture of the head to improve walking? Sounds unlikely, yet this study shows it works. This unconventional rehabilitation approach is worth trying.

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