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Cat Got Your Tongue? Here’s Why It Could Be Expressive Aphasia

Expressive aphasia disrupts a person’s ability to communicate. It has multiple causes and makes it difficult for a person to construct verbal or written sentences.

Woman undergoing speech therapy 

A stroke has several disabling symptoms, such as confusion, vision impairment in one or both eyes, a lack of coordination, and a sudden loss of mobility and balance. In some instances, a survivor of the disease may experience a neurological disorder called aphasia, which affects a person’s speech, language use, and communication skills. Expressive aphasia (also called Broca’s aphasia), specifically, is a condition that makes it difficult for a person to write and put grammatically-correct sentences together. It also limits a person’s speech to no more than four words per sentence.

It’s worth noting that a tumour, brain trauma, or a progressive neurological disease can also cause aphasia. Let’s take a closer look at how the condition transpires and ways to improve a person’s ability to communicate with clinical and traditional treatment options. 

Woman holding her head in both hands while sitting on a sofa
A concussion or traumatic head injury can make a person vulnerable to expressive aphasia.

What are the Primary Causes of Expressive Aphasia? 

In addition to a stroke, the condition can stem from various other clinical disorders and exposure to certain substances. These include: 

  • Migraines 
  • Seizures 
  • Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs) 
  • Brain tumours 
  • Brain surgery 
  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Cerebral hypoxia (brain damage due to a lack of oxygen) 
  • Congenital disorders 
  • Genetic disorders (such as Wilson’s disease) 
  • Concussion or traumatic brain injury 

Exposure to carbon monoxide and heavy metals and treatments like brain surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also increase a person’s risk of developing aphasia. These can induce bleeding on the left side of the brain, affecting the language centres – areas of the brain that play essential roles in speech processing and production.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) relates to imbalances in the Five Organ system. “Pathogenic factors like Wind, Fire, phlegm and Blood Stagnation can provoke blockages in the tongue and brain, resulting in a loss of speech,” explains Eu Yan Sang Physician Anita Pee.

How to Treat Expressive Aphasia Holistically 

To diagnose expressive aphasia, a healthcare provider will usually perform a physical examination and enquire about a person’s medical history. They may also consider running several diagnostic and imaging tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms to aphasia. Examples of these are: 

  • Sensory and nerve function tests  
  • Cognitive and memory tests 
  • Diagnostic and imaging tests 
Written and graphical language helps a person with aphasia communicate daily.

Applying clinical principles in treating expressive aphasia 

Based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) three-level analysis of the functional consequences of aphasia, three individual schools of rehabilitation may be developed. These are: 

– The Traditional School of Language-Oriented Aphasia Therapy – uses repetition and auditory and visual stimulation to restore language skills and enhance functional communication. 

– The Functional/Pragmatic School of Aphasia Therapy – encourages people with the condition to apply gestures and verbal, written, and graphical language in daily communication. 

– The Cognitive Neuropsychology School – involves planning and structuring therapeutic goals after assessing compromised cognitive functions.

Using traditional remedies to address expressive aphasia 

Acupuncture treatment’s ability to suppress symptoms of expressive aphasia is proven in a study of over 100 case reports, uncontrolled clinical observations and controlled clinical trials. It found that body, scalp, tongue, and combination acupuncture centred on tongue bleeding, deep insertion and strong stimulation were used to treat post-stroke aphasia.

Physician Pee recommends needling of the bai hui (DU20, 百会) and si shen cong (EM1, 四神聪) acupressure points on the scalp, he gu (LI4, 合谷) and san yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交) points on the body, and jin jin (EX-HN12, 金津) and yu ye (EX-HN13, 玉液) points on the tongue. 

Herbal ingredients can strengthen organ functions and resolve underlying reasons behind the condition. Pinellia rhizome (ban xia, 半夏), Acori Tatarinowii Rhizoma (shi chang pu, 石菖蒲), peach seeds (tao ren, 桃仁), and safflower (hong hua, 红花) can help eliminate phlegm, invigorate blood, and remove Stagnation.  

Ultimately, expressive aphasia isn’t directly curable, but tackling its root causes may help a person regain speech control in the long run. If you wish to use alternative therapies, it’s advisable to speak to a licensed TCM practitioner beforehand.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke Signs and Symptoms. [online] [Accessed 12 July 2022]
  2. National Aphasia Association. Related Disorders. [online] [Accessed 12 July 2022]
  3. Cleveland Clinic. Aphasia. [online] [Accessed 12 July 2022]
  4. National Library of Medicine. 2012. Rehabilitation of language in expressive aphasias: a literature review. [online] [Accessed 12 July 2022]
  5. Science Direct. 2012. Acupuncture therapy on apoplectic aphasia rehabilitation. [online] [Accessed 12 July 2022]

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