Background/objective: Stroke is a major cause of disability and death in the Western world. Studies have shown a direct relationship between specific mental and motor activity and changes in cerebral blood flow. Acupuncture is often used in post-stroke patients, but there is a lack of sham-controlled studies evaluating the effects of acupuncture on cerebral blood flow following a stroke. This pilot concept-assessment study sought to evaluate the effects of true acupuncture on cerebral blood flow velocity compared with sham acupuncture and lay a foundation for future work in this field.
Methods: Seventeen inpatients (age range, 44-79 years) 1-3 months post-stroke were allocated to acupuncture at true acupuncture (TA) points or at sham acupuncture (SA) points. The treatment was 20 minutes long. Transcranial Doppler ultrasonography was used to measure mean flow velocity (MFV) and peak flow velocity (PFV) at both healthy and damaged hemispheres before (T0), in the middle of (T15), and 5 minutes after (T25) treatment. Blood pressure was measured at T0 and T25.
Results: A statistically significant (p < 0.04) MFV increase in both hemispheres was found during and after TA; this increase was higher than that seen with SA (p < 0.035). Acupuncture had no significant effect on PFV. Systolic blood pressure significantly decreased after acupuncture (p < 0.005) in a similar manner for both TA and SA. National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale score was negatively correlated with MFV at T15 (r = -0.825; p < 0.05).
Conclusion: This pilot study showed a significant influence on cerebral blood flow velocity by TA. This study lays a foundation for larger-scale studies that may prove acupuncture to be a useful tool for cerebral blood flow enhancement during post-stroke rehabilitation.