Stroke specialist Atsuki Maeda demonstrates an acupuncture treatment on Nina Grenningloh at Emperor's College of Traditional Oriental Medicine on Monday. The college is using the ancient technique to help people recover from a stroke. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — While many stroke survivors are moving toward recovery with intensive physical therapy, Lisa Curland chose to supplement her rehabilitation by nontraditional means: medicinal acupuncture treatments.

Curland was the first patient to be treated at Emperor’s College’s Stroke and Dementia Care Center, where practitioners employ use of Xing Nao Kai Qiao acupuncture therapy.

Emperor’s College, founded in Santa Monica in 1983, is one of the oldest colleges in the country that teaches oriental medicine.

Oriental medicine practitioners aim to secure overall wellness for their patients, said licensed acupuncturist Robert Newman, Emperor’s College clinic director. They do this by employing the use of herbal medicine, massage therapy and acupuncture.

“I chose Oriental medicine (for my rehabilitation) because I believe in acupuncture,” Curland said via e-mail. “My progress has been slow but encouraging.”

Curland had her stroke a year and a half ago, and has since taken exercise classes at UCLA and Santa Monica College. Since she underwent her stroke she has gone from limited mobility in a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane.

Both she and Atsuki Maeda, Emperor’s College stroke specialist, agree that it is too soon to judge her response to the acupuncture, as she has only had a few treatments. However, Curland said that she can now point her toe on her right foot, something she could not do before. Her right hand is also less spastic, she added.

“I will try this for a few months and assess how I’m doing at that time,” Curland said, regarding her continuing the acupuncture treatment.

Acupuncture treatment aims to harmonize the body, Maeda said, much like the iconic yin and yang symbols. He added that staff at Emperor’s College emphasize the importance of integration with eastern and western medical practices, saying a patients “chi,” or energy, can best be balanced with techniques from both hemispheres.

When a stroke patient comes in for an initial assessment, Maeda does a brief physical, noting problems with an individuals gait, sight, hearing, etc. Once their physical state has been established, Maeda customizes his acupuncture protocol. The depth, pressure and placement of the needles vary depending on an individual’s physical condition.

Once all needles are inserted, the patient remains still for 15 to 20 minutes until they are removed.

“The placement of the needles can be slightly uncomfortable,” Curland said in the e-mail, adding that she feels “tingling all the way through her limbs.”

Yet, Maeda asserts that “painful” isn’t the word he’d use to describe the procedure.

In an impromptu acupuncture session, Maeda demonstrated the treatment.

Nina Grenningloh, Emperor’s College communications specialist, lay down on and exam table as Maeda covered the length of her body with towels.

Once the towels were removed, he proceeded to take her pulse. Feeling her heart beat at various pressure points helped him identify the imbalance in her blood, which could be characterized as anything from rapid to slow to superficial.

Incidentally, Grenningloh was said to have a “wiry, slippery” pulse.

This diagnosis helped Maeda know where to direct Grenningloh’s body’s natural healing energy, he said.

Then, he placed a total of eight needles on Grenningloh’s limbs. Maeda carefully chose the needles’ entry point, pinching the air above the needle, creating pressure that pushed the needle deeper within the epidermis.

Grenningloh was often surprised to find the hair-sized needles in her skin, saying she didn’t feel a thing.

When she did feel a needle’s entry, she didn’t say she felt pain, but rather energy surging in her body.

“When I press my thumb into your arm, you feel something, don’t you?” Maeda said, explaining the sensation. “Just because you feel something doesn’t mean it’s pain.”

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