Combining Acupuncture and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: A Comprehensive Approach to Stroke Recovery

By Lisa St. John, M.S.
Combining Acupuncture and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: A Comprehensive Approach to Stroke Recovery

Acupuncture and hyperbaric oxygen therapy has proven to be beneficial for stroke victims. Here, we will showcase how you can properly combine both treatments.

Every year, stroke affects millions of lives worldwide, leaving survivors grappling with debilitating consequences. As medical science progresses, so does our understanding of innovative therapies to aid in stroke recovery. Among these, acupuncture and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) have gained recognition for their potential to enhance healing. 

In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the synergistic benefits of combining acupuncture and HBOT as a holistic approach to stroke recovery.

Acupuncture for Stroke Recovery

Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese healing practice, involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body. While its efficacy has been debated in Western medicine, numerous studies have highlighted its potential in stroke rehabilitation. Our Acupuncture partners, including Alameda Acupuncture, have seen significant improvement in post-stroke patients as a result of acupuncture. When post-stroke patients combine acupuncture and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, they show even better results. Here are some benefits of acupuncture in stroke recovery:

Benefits of Acupuncture in Stroke Recovery

  • Improved Blood Circulation: Acupuncture stimulates blood flow, delivering essential nutrients and oxygen to affected brain areas.
  • Reduced Inflammation: By modulating inflammatory responses, acupuncture helps alleviate swelling and promotes tissue healing post-stroke.
  • Pain Management: Many stroke survivors experience chronic pain, which acupuncture can effectively address by triggering the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers.
  • Enhanced Neuroplasticity: Acupuncture may promote neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to rewire itself, facilitating recovery of motor and cognitive functions post-stroke. 

Acupuncture is usually a minimally invasive procedure, and most survivors experience a pleasant calming sensation while receiving treatment. However, like many other natural methods for stroke recovery, there are some potential risks such as soreness or excess bleeding around the needle sites. 

Furthermore, licensed acupuncturists should provide extra care during your initial visit to discuss pre-existing medical conditions, including stroke. They can differentiate the type of stroke you had, such as ischemic stroke (caused by a blood clot) or hemorrhagic stroke (caused by a burst artery). It’s important to discuss this with your acupuncturist because some believe that acupuncture can open blood vessels and decrease clotting. While this can be helpful for individuals with a history of ischemic stroke, it can be potentially dangerous for those with a history of hemorrhagic stroke.

At Alameda Acupuncture, Dr John Nieters spends up to 90 minutes walking through a patient’s background and reviewing medical records, before prescribing acupuncture.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT): A Modern Approach to Healing

HBOT involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber, allowing the lungs to gather more oxygen than would be possible under normal conditions. When patients receive 100% oxygen under pressure, oxygen is distributed through the body at 1200% of normal. This oxygen-rich environment promotes numerous healing mechanisms within the body. It can specifically help stroke patients because strokes often cut off blood flow and oxygen to parts of the brain. Oxygen is typically carried in the blood (on hemoglobin). However, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is infused throughout the body, including across the blood-brain barrier, even when blood flow has been blocked. HBOT also helps the body create new blood vessels and can help the brain with neurogenesis, which is the production of new neurons from stem cells. HBOT has been shown to enhance the creation of stem cells significantly and to mobilize them to areas of the body and brain that need them most. 

As many know, strokes can be devastating, and it can take many excruciating years to recover. Our hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) clinic has helped hundreds of stroke patients return to normal life over the past 25 years. A recent study (Eftati et al. 2014) showed that up to 55% of stroke participants experienced significant improvement after HBOT, while 72% had at least a mild improvement.

Strokes impact our bodies in many different ways. A patient can encounter challenges in speaking, walking, dressing, bathing, cooking, eating, talking on the phone, driving, playing with a grandchild, reading and writing, just to name a few. Each of these can continue for years. Strokes can rob us of many of the enjoyable and necessary aspects of being alive. The challenge is that strokes cause different challenges in different people, which makes it difficult to predict with any accuracy which benefits will appear with HBOT.

Here's how HBOT contributes to stroke recovery:

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) has been shown to activate neuroplasticity in chronic neurological deficiencies resulting from strokes. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections. Numerous studies have shown the importance of increased oxygen to the brain after acute ischemia or stoke, and on the value of hyperbaric oxygen in particular. When patients breathe oxygen under pressure (hyperbaric oxygen therapy), it increases oxygen tension in arteries and in the brain. It also facilitates the flow of oxygen dissolved directly in the blood across the blood-brain barrier. At the minimum then, it is reasonable to expect that HBOT can be an effective method of increasing oxygen to brain tissues, and evoking neuroplasticity, angiogenesis in non-active areas, and increased neuronal activity after a stroke.

The Synergistic Benefits of Combining Acupuncture and HBOT

When acupuncture and HBOT are combined, their synergistic effects can amplify the efficacy of stroke rehabilitation. Here's how:

Complementary Mechanisms of Acupuncture and HBOT in Stroke Recovery

  • Enhancing Blood Flow: Acupuncture stimulates the dilation of blood vessels, while HBOT increases oxygen supply to tissues. Together, they promote optimal blood flow to the brain, which is crucial for post-stroke recovery.
  • Improving Oxygenation: HBOT floods the body with oxygen, augmenting cellular metabolism and repairing damaged tissues. Oxygen delivery to the affected areas is further optimized when paired with acupuncture, which enhances microcirculation.
  • Addressing Different Aspects of Stroke Recovery Simultaneously: Acupuncture targets various symptoms of stroke, such as motor deficits, cognitive impairment, and emotional disturbances. HBOT complements these efforts by promoting overall healing and regeneration, resulting in a more holistic approach to rehabilitation.

Recover with Acupuncture and HBOT

The combination of acupuncture and hyperbaric oxygen therapy offers a multifaceted approach to stroke recovery, addressing both the symptoms and underlying mechanisms of the condition. As a practitioner, incorporating these complementary therapies into your rehabilitation protocols can significantly enhance outcomes for stroke survivors. By leveraging the synergistic benefits of acupuncture and HBOT, we can pave the way for a brighter future in stroke rehabilitation.

Lisa St. John, M.S.
Lisa St. John, M.S.
Clinic Director and Founder

Lisa is our Clinic Director and Founder. She earned her Master’s degree from Harvard University, completed a Fellowship at Stanford University, and has spent the last 30 years working in the healthcare field.

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Combining Acupuncture and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Acupuncture and hyperbaric oxygen therapy has proven to be beneficial for stroke victims. Here, we will showcase how you can properly combine both treatments.


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