Stroke rehabilitation is an important part of recovery after stroke. Rehab helps to relearn lost skills, regain independence, and quality of life.
Many people lose the use of their arms and hands after a stroke and experience spasticity, uncontrollable muscle tightness, and stiffness, which make movement difficult. Experts estimate that 20-50% of stroke survivors have some spasticity. In addition, paralysis or weakness on one side of the body happens to about 80% of people. This usually happens on the opposite side of the body from where the stroke occurred in the brain.
Stroke Rehabilitation Starts Right Away
Stroke rehabilitation begins as soon as the patient stabilizes, often times within 24-48 hours after the stroke. Early, individualized therapy helps improve recovery. After leaving the hospital, the rehabilitation continues at a skilled nursing facility, outpatient location, or at home. While some stroke survivors can recover fully, others will always have some disability.
Stroke Rehabilitation: Stretch and Stretch Some More
Stretching exercises promotes blood flow and makes it easier to move the arms. The goal is to stretch the hand, arm, and shoulder in a fluid full range of motion.
Stroke Rehabilitation: Rebuild Your Strength
Strengthening the muscles in your hand and arm will help improve your grip and ability to use your limb. An early arm exercise involves holding your weak arm with your strong arm and rocking it back and forth like a baby. As you gain strength and mobility, you can use squeeze balls, wrist weights, or hand weights to tone and build muscle.
Stroke Rehabilitation: Electrical Stimulation Therapy
A stroke interferes with your brain’s ability to send messages to the nerves in your muscles. This can make it difficult to move and control your arm and hand. Electrical stimulation (ES) therapy is a safe way to stimulate the nerves that make your muscles contract. Electrical stimulation may help you regain control over your limb, improve muscle tone, and reduce pain and spasticity.
Constraint Induced Movement Therapy
At some point in your recovery, your therapist may have you wear a restraining device on your functioning arm. You’ll then be asked to use your affected hand and arm as much as possible to do repetitive tasks. This type of therapy is thought to increase brain plasticity. It may also help you regain function in your affected hand.
Stroke Rehabilitation: Regain Fine Motor Movements
Fine motor skills are small, precise movements you make with your hand and fingers. You can build this skill by tracing a design with a pen, shuffling cards, using a pegboard, or picking up small beans and putting them in a cup. As with all rehabilitation exercises, repetition is important to help retrain your brain. You need to practice daily, just as you would if you were learning to play the piano.
Stroke Rehabilitation: Oral Medications
Fine motor skills are small, precise movements you make with your hand and fingers. You can build this skill by tracing a design with a pen, shuffling cards, using a pegboard, or picking up small beans and putting them in a cup. As with all rehabilitation exercises, repetition is important to help retrain your brain. You need to practice daily.
Stroke Rehabilitation: Injections to Reduce Spasticity
For spasticity in a few select areas, you may benefit from targeted injections therapy. A doctor can inject you with botulinum toxin, phenol, or both. Botulinum treatments block the release of nerve chemicals involved in muscle contraction. Phenol injections serve as nerve blocks in affected muscles. Effects of both treatments usually last about three to six months. Depending on the medication, side effects can include pain, swelling, soreness, fatigue, and muscle weakness.
Stroke Rehabilitation: Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy
Intrathecal baclofen therapy reduces spasticity. For this, a small pump is surgically implanted to administer muscle relaxant medicine to the spinal fluid. Doctors use this device when the patient has not responded to oral medications. The pump uses a smaller amount of baclofen medication than when it’s taken by pill, so it can cut down on several side effects.
Occupational Therapy: Relearning Pre-Stroke Skills
One of the most important parts of recovery is relearning daily living skills so that you can be mobile and independent. An occupational therapist (OT)teaches how to relearn skills such as:
- Changing your clothes
- Taking a shower on your own
- Driving a car
Stroke Rehabilitation: Stick With It
The first three months after a stroke are when most people make the biggest gains in their recovery. But by continuing to set new goals for yourself and exercising every day, you can see progress even years later. Practicing new skills helps the undamaged part of your brain take over new functions. Moreover, scientists are just beginning to understand how powerful our brains are, so it’s worth sticking with it.