When Kyndl decided to write about her experience treating stroke, it made me pause and reflect on my own history. In my mid-30s, I had a stroke that profoundly affected my life. My stroke was caused by a dissected vertebral artery that sent a series of small blood clots into the back of my brain (primarily the cerebellum.) Early on I was exhausted and struggled to function, even though most of my symptoms weren’t visible. It has been a long and winding journey. As I work with patients who are recovering from stroke and head injuries, I draw on that experience, encouraging them to expand their toolkit. Here is the most common advice I give.
1. Rest, Rest, Rest. The brain needs a lot of rest to recover. This is “next level” rest that you may never have experienced before. Nap, move slowly, find ways to increase the restfulness of your life. Think of it as a yin practice of reducing stimulation and enjoying quiet. Find things that calm your nervous system and put you in a state of healing. Things I’ve found helpful include laying on the earth, being in nature, using a weighted blanket and listening to guided meditations. [The caveat here is that there is also a need for movement. If you have lost mobility or have paralyzing vertigo, it is essential that you find ways to move as well. The brain needs to be challenged.]
2. Focus on Nutrition. Eat a diet rich in antioxidants, i.e. lots of fresh fruits and veggies and minimal processed foods. You may become more sensitive to caffeine, alcohol, sugar or common allergens in your diet. Be willing to eliminate things that are hard on your body. Explore brain-supporting supplements like Omega 3s or fish oil, amino acids like L-Theanine and GABA (to name a few). Also, the brain is more prone to anxiety and depression after an injury. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, medication can be helpful - this is a great time to consider all your options.
3. Assemble Your Team. You may benefit from acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, neurofeedback, biofeedback and more. Look for practitioners who have experience treating stroke or brain injuries. You’ll need a variety of support in different stages of the healing process. When you hit a plateau, it may be time to take a break from a therapy or try something new.
4. Cultivate Patience. The recovery process will take longer than you think. Sometimes this is frustrating, as you face unexpected plateaus, but know that improvements will continue to come. If you get discouraged, investigate neuroplasticity - the brain and nervous system are continuously adapting in amazing ways! Laugh about it. Celebrate improvements you notice rather than focusing on when you’ll “get back to normal.” Make sure the people around you understand this too. Seek out the support of others who have made this journey before you. Remember, you are being transformed in the healing process, not reaching back to a previous state of health.
My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor
The Brain that Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing, by Norman Doidge
The Antianxiety Food Solution by Trudy Scott
Anything by Dr Dan Seigel, who also has great meditations on his website: https://www.mindsightinstitute.com
Let us know what resources you've found helpful! Please comment below.
- Hannah Beachy, L.Ac.
June is National Stroke Awareness Month, which seems like the perfect time to share my experience treating stroke patients a few years ago when I volunteered with the Acupuncture Relief Project, a small non-profit organization that worked to provide healthcare to rural areas of Nepal.
One of the biggest health risks we watched out for in our patients at the clinic were precursors to stroke. The main health concerns were high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol, all of which were on the rise throughout Nepal. This stemmed from a diet high in salt and starch and easier access to processed foods high in sugars and sodium. Combining improper diet with a sedentary lifestyle poses serious health risks. Aside from manual labor working the fields or walking up and down the steep hills from village to village or to temple for puja (prayer), any sort of exercise was practically unheard of and we saw a lot of folks come through the clinic who benefited from the guidance we had to offer them. Prevention is a key component to healthy living.
When a stroke occurs, there are key signs that confirm what is going on and, if identified and treated quickly, can dramatically improve the outcome. This includes numbness in the arm, face, or leg (usually on one side of the body), severe headache, slurred speech and confusion or difficulty using the right words, loss of balance, dizziness or vertigo, and visionary trouble. When someone is experiencing a stroke, seeking medical attention as soon as possible and acting F.A.S.T. (Face droop? Arm weakness? Slurred speech? Time to call 911) is vital in order to prevent permanent damage to the brain.
In rural Nepal, it can be difficult to access immediate medical attention, so many people are dealing with long-term post-stroke symptoms. It was a common patient profile in the little clinic in Bajra Barahi where I volunteered. So in my time there, I worked closely with many post-stroke patients and saw first hand what consistent acupuncture can do for them.
One was a man I’ll call Rajesh, who would travel to the clinic by foot from a village about three hours walk away. He and his wife would come slowly down the dirt road towards the clinic each morning (see photos below). I saw them from the window while finishing up my spicy split pea porridge (dhaal bhat) and tea. It was an admirable sight, as his stroke left the right side of his body about 80% immobile. His pride allowed for the use of a walking stick but never any help from his wife who we’ll call Sita. Every day we would do combined therapies of routine range of motion exercises, Chinese massage called Tui Na, and scalp acupuncture with electro-stimulation. By the end of my couple of months working in the clinic, we saw his mobility and motor function improve by a margin of 30%, a huge success considering his prior state. His wife also had started getting treatment for her high blood pressure and stress.
In China, doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine have done extensive research on treating stroke. Acupuncture has proven to be a highly effective therapy during recovery. The brain is stimulated by the needles to increase communication with the nervous system, rebuilding deadened nerve pathways and helping to smooth the circulation of blood throughout the body. In Rajesh’s case, his stroke had occurred fourteen months prior but he didn’t seek treatment until 9 months later. However, he was persistent with his treatment and even in his chronic state, was able to see how acupuncture could help him regain the functions his body had lost from his stroke.
- Kyndl Mueller, L.Ac.