Alternative stroke treatments alongside standard stroke medications may provide additional benefits for certain people.

A stroke is a health emergency that requires immediate medical treatment.

It is possible that alternative treatments alongside standard medications may help people recover from a stroke. These alternative treatments may include acupuncture, diet changes, and massage.

This article reviews some alternative treatments for stroke.

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Some people suggest that acupuncture may be an effective alternative treatment to help people with hemiplegia after a stroke. Hemiplegia is paralysis affecting one side of the body.

The standard treatment for hemiplegia after a stroke is physical therapy.

According to a 2022 study with 128 adults who had a stroke, acupuncture may improve motor disability and quality of life. These effects may be short or long term. Some of the improvements participants reported were:

  • recovery from injury
  • degree of muscle spasm
  • self-care abilities in daily life

A 2019 study found that acupuncture helped improve post-stroke aphasia. Aphasia is a language disorder that affects how a person communicates.

Researchers reported acupuncture helped improve the following aphasia symptoms:

  • functional communication
  • severity of aphasia
  • spontaneous speaking
  • understanding speech
  • repeating speech
  • naming, reading, and writing

Learn more about acupuncture.

After a stroke, people may have a higher risk of dehydration and poor nutrition. Trouble swallowing, psychological impairment, and decreased consciousness can affect nutrition after a stroke. Poor nutrition after a stroke can slow recovery and increase the risk of death.

A 2022 review of previous studies suggests 6–62% of people admitted to the hospital for a stroke are malnourished. Within the first weeks following a stroke, malnutrition may occur in about 25% of people.

Nutritional supplementation is only recommended for people with signs of malnutrition or those with a risk of malnutrition. Nutritionists suggest that supplementing protein and amino acids in the diet of these people can help improve and maintain muscle mass.

Nutritional supplementation can also help remodel brain connections after a stroke.

Learn more about diet following a stroke.

Yoga is a mind-body practice. In a 2017 review, researchers explored the effects of yoga on five domains:

  • physical
  • emotional
  • communication
  • social participation
  • stroke recovery

Yoga did not improve scores in any of these domains, according to review findings.

Review authors did note yoga offered some improvements in memory and state anxiety. In state anxiety, people have anxious thoughts because of a situation at a particular moment. However, evidence for these benefits was lacking.

More research is needed on the potential benefits of yoga after a stroke.

Certain exercises other than yoga may help people regain muscle strength and mobility after a stroke. A physical therapist can provide specific exercises and stretches.

Learn more about exercise for stroke recovery.

Massage therapy may help improve muscle function and reduce muscle spasms after a stroke.

A 2021 study suggests that tuina, a type of Chinese massage, may be effective for post-stroke recovery when combined with standard physical therapy.

With tuina massage, the practitioner uses techniques such as:

  • pressing
  • rolling
  • holding and twisting
  • shaking
  • vibrating
  • knocking
  • acupressure
  • joint mobilization

Some of the benefits study participants reported include:

  • reduced shoulder-hand pain
  • improved gait
  • improved balance

Weight management after a stroke depends on the person and the effects of the stroke.

For example, some post-stroke effects may include tissue wasting and muscle and fat loss from inactivity or paralysis. These factors may impair stroke rehabilitation.

After a stroke, people require individualized plans for weight management since weight loss may not help with recovery.

More research is necessary to define an optimal body weight after stroke and how to support lifestyle changes to manage weight.

People can speak with a healthcare professional about managing their weight after a stroke.

Some people may consider taking vitamin or mineral supplements after a stroke. People with a vitamin deficiency due to malnutrition following a stroke may benefit from these supplements.

However, studies have not confirmed which vitamins and minerals are an effective and safe alternative medicine for stroke.

Some vitamins and minerals researchers are investigating for their effects on stroke recovery include:

  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B12
  • vitamin B6
  • folic acid
  • choline
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E
  • magnesium

The evidence for alternative stroke treatments is limited.

Other possible treatments that may be safe are tai chi and aromatherapy. However, it is still uncertain whether they are effective for stroke recovery.

Some people may also consider herbal remedies as an alternative treatment. However, some herbal supplements are blood thinners. After a stroke, doctors prescribe blood thinners either for a specific duration or indefinitely.

Taking certain herbal supplements that have blood-thinning effects with prescribed blood thinners may cause severe bleeding.

According to a 2019 review, herbal products with bleeding risks and those that may interfere with prescribed medications include:

Herbal products with blood-thinning effectsHerbal products that can interact with prescribed medications
gingkodong quai
dong quaievening primrose
evening primrose

Before taking any herbal supplements, talk with a qualified healthcare professional. Herbal supplements are not meant to replace prescribed medications after a stroke.

After a stroke, people may have a complex medication regimen to follow. Standard drug therapy after a stroke helps reduce the risk of having another stroke. It also helps treat specific complications from a stroke.

Taking alternative and complementary treatments for stroke may cause negative interactions. Plus, not all alternative stroke treatments are effective.

Before starting any alternative or complementary treatment, a person needs to check with their doctor that no interactions or problems may arise.

Some questions to ask a doctor may include:

  • Which alternative stroke treatments are best for improving muscle strength?
  • What is the impact of mindfulness meditation on stroke rehabilitation?
  • What are some expected side effects of alternative stroke treatments?

After a stroke, people typically need to take several medications for recovery and rehabilitation.

Alternative treatments for stroke may provide some benefits for some people. However, studies confirming the effects of alternative treatments are lacking. Some alternative treatments, like herbal remedies, can cause harm.

Before a person chooses an alternative treatment for stroke, they need to talk with a doctor to ensure it is safe and effective.