Mechanisms of Acupuncture Therapy in Ischemic Stroke Rehabilitation: A Literature Review of Basic Studies

Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Oct 28;18(11):2270. doi: 10.3390/ijms18112270.


Acupuncture is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an alternative and complementary strategy for stroke treatment and for improving stroke care. Clinical trial and meta-analysis findings have demonstrated the efficacy of acupuncture in improving balance function, reducing spasticity, and increasing muscle strength and general well-being post-stroke. The mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of acupuncture in stroke rehabilitation remain unclear. The aim of this study was to conduct a literature review, summarize the current known mechanisms in ischemic stroke rehabilitation through acupuncture and electroacupuncture (EA) therapy, and to detail the frequently used acupoints implicated in these effects. The evidence in this review indicates that five major different mechanisms are involved in the beneficial effects of acupuncture/EA on ischemic stroke rehabilitation: (1) Promotion of neurogenesis and cell proliferation in the central nervous system (CNS); (2) Regulation of cerebral blood flow in the ischemic area; (3) Anti-apoptosis in the ischemic area; (4) Regulation of neurochemicals; and, (5) Improvement of impaired long-term potentiation (LTP) and memory after stroke. The most frequently used acupoints in basic studies include Baihui (GV20), Zusanli (ST36), Quchi (LI11), Shuigou (GV26), Dazhui (GV14), and Hegu (LI4). Our findings show that acupuncture exerts a beneficial effect on ischemic stroke through modulation of different mechanisms originating in the CNS.

Keywords: acupuncture; basic research; cerebral ischemia; rehabilitation; stroke.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy* / methods
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation
  • Memory
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic
  • Neurogenesis
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Stroke / etiology
  • Stroke / therapy*
  • Stroke Rehabilitation* / methods
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Neurotransmitter Agents