If you want to understand the stroke rehabilitation process, we have you covered.
There are many steps to understand during stroke rehabilitation and it can feel overwhelming sometimes, especially if you’re a new stroke survivor or caregiver.
To help simplify the stroke rehabilitation process, we’ve outlined everything we think you should know about this journey. And we broke it up into 5 parts:
- Understanding the Basics of Stroke Rehab
- Stroke Rehabilitation & Treatment
- Timelines & Patterns
- Rehabilitation at Home Vs. Clinic
- Finding Hope and a Higher Recovery
Our advice is unconventional and full of the healthy perspective you need.
Understanding Stroke Rehabilitation
Let’s start with the definition of a stroke.
1. What Is Stroke?
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2017/10/what-is-a-stroke.jpg 750w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
A stroke is a “brain attack” that occurs when the supply of blood in the brain is cut off by either a clogged or burst artery.
Since brain cells cannot survive without oxygen, the lack of oxygen-rich blood causes brain damage which results in stroke side effects.
There are many stroke side effects that you may experience. Some of the most common ones are:
- Impaired movement or paralysis on one side of the body
- Spasticity (stiff, tight muscles)
- Aphasia (difficulty speaking)
- Foot drop (difficulty lifting the foot)
The side effects that you experience depends on where the stroke occurred in your brain, which we will discuss next.
2. Every Stroke Is Different
The brain is composed of many different parts that each control different functions like language, emotion, and logic.
Stroke can occur in any area of the brain and affect different functions, making every stroke unique.
3. Left vs. Right Side Stroke Rehabilitation
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2017/09/stroke-recovery-brain.jpg 500w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
Each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. When stroke occurs in the left hemisphere, for example, it can cause movement impairments on the right side of the body.
It’s valuable to understand which part of the brain was affected by stroke because it can give you an idea of which stroke side effects you will experience.
Every stroke patient should ask their neurologist about the size and location of their stroke because it has serious implications for rehabilitation.
4. It’s About the Brain, not the Body
It’s also very important to understand that stroke rehabilitation starts in the brain, not the body.
This distinction is incredibly important: to heal your body, you need to heal your brain.
If your motor cortex was damaged, for example, then you might have difficulty moving half of your body. Although it feels like the problem is in your muscles, you need to heal your brain if you want to regain movement.
All stroke rehabilitation therapies revolve around healing the brain.
5. Neuroplasticity Is the King of Rehab
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2015/09/how-does-the-brain-recover-after-stroke1.jpg 750w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
The good news is that your brain already knows how to heal itself through the process of neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the mechanism that your brain uses to rewire itself and form new connections.
When part of the brain becomes damaged after stroke, neuroplasticity allows your brain to rewire the healthy parts of your brain to pick up the slack.
That’s right – your brain can rewire itself and let different parts of the brain take over.
Because of this, activating neuroplasticity is the #1 most important thing during stroke rehabilitation.
6. Repetition Is the Key
Neuroplasticity is activated by repetitive practice. Whenever you repeat something over and over and over, you strengthen the connections in your brain. The stronger the connections become, the stronger your skills become.
For example, if walking is difficult after stroke, then practicing leg exercises over and over and over can help strengthen the connections in your brain that control leg movement. The more you practice, the more your brain will rewire itself, and your walking will improve.
During stroke rehabilitation, you will be forming lots of new connections from scratch, which requires lots of time and hard work.
Stroke Rehabilitation & Treatment
Before we can start talking about how to treat your stroke side effects, we need to talk about the different types of treatment.
There are two types of stroke treatments that occur: treatment in the hospital to stop the stroke and treatment to remedy the stroke side effects that occur.
Let’s start by discussing when happens in the hospital.
7. Stroke Treatment in the Hospital
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2015/11/how-to-identify-a-stroke.jpg 750w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
If you have an ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot and clogged artery, then drugs like TPA or aspirin will be administered to dissolve the clot.
If you have a hemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by a burst artery, then surgery might be required to stop the bleeding.
The faster the treatment, the greater the chance of survival. Time is brain when it comes to stroke treatment!
8. Stroke Rehabilitation Begins as Soon as Possible
Once treatment has been administered in the hospital, stroke rehabilitation begins immediately. Literally – some people begin rehabilitation the day after treatment.
For those who sustain severe mobility impairments, a rehab specialist might start by taking your body through its range of motion. If your mobility was not severely affected, they might have you start walking as soon as possible.
It all depends on your unique stroke rehabilitation process.
9. Choosing the Best Treatments
The best treatments for stroke are the ones that activate neuroplasticity the most efficiently. Since the goal of stroke rehabilitation is healing the brain, you want to participate in stroke rehabilitation practices that help you get your reps in.
Because of this, rehab exercise is often the most effective way to regain movement after stroke – especially when you accomplish lots of repetitions per session.
Stroke Rehabilitation Timeline
Now that you know how to treat your stroke side effects, you might be wondering long how all of this might take. Let’s take a look.
10. Estimating Your Stroke Rehabilitation Timeline
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2017/01/stroke-recovery-timeline-guide.jpg 750w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
Generally speaking, people who recover from a minor stroke can recover within 6 months to a year. For more severe strokes, rehabilitation could take a few years. And for those who suffer massive stroke, rehabilitation could take decades.
Although these numbers might feel overwhelming, don’t lose hope! Yes, stroke rehabilitation is a long process, but there is tons of hope for recovery – even a full recovery, which we will discuss later.
But first, we’d like to debunk a common stroke rehabilitation myth: the plateau.
11. Accepting and Reversing Plateaus
Plateaus during stroke rehabilitation are real and well-documented. Most patients will see a slowdown in their progress at about the 3-6 month mark.
Does this mean that recovery is over? NO. Although your progress slows down, it will not stop as long as you don’t stop.
Plateaus are real and normal, and you can reverse them by providing your brain with the right stimulation.
Specifically, you want to get some variety and challenge into your regimen to shake things up and get your results moving along again.
Read more: How to Get Past Plateaus after Stroke
12. Understanding Regression
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2017/10/Success.jpg 1024w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
Success drawing by Demitri Martin
Stroke rehabilitation often takes the shape of ‘two steps forward, one step back.’ Small declines in progress are normal and should not be stressed over. When you zoom out and look at the big picture, there should be a trend of upward progress.
Read more: What to Do If You’re Regressing After Stroke
Stroke Rehabilitation at Home vs. The Clinic
Now that you understand the general timeline and patterns that happen during stroke recovery, let’s talk about WHERE stroke rehabilitation takes place.
13. Stroke Rehabilitation at the Clinic
After stroke, you will likely participate in physical and occupational therapy. Most insurances cover these sessions for a certain amount of time.
During these therapy sessions at the clinic, you will work with a physical or occupational therapist to rehabilitate your side effects and work to regain independence. These sessions are valuable.
However, after a certain amount of time, insurance will stop covering your sessions. At this point, it’s important to find a solid home therapy program to follow.
Some patients will continue to see their therapist once or twice a month and use home therapy as a supplement. Others cannot afford trips to the clinic and rely on home therapy to continue their progress.
14. Stroke Rehabilitation at Home
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2017/07/stroke-rehab-devices.png 750w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
When you’re looking for a home therapy program, it’s important to consider your goals. Are you looking for something challenging yet affordable? Do you have strong work ethic or do you need something that provides extra motivation?
Everyone resonates differently with different therapies. While we have our own preferred methods of home therapy (like our FitMi home therapy system), other people have their own preferences.
Finding Hope during Stroke Rehabilitation
And now we’ve reached our favorite part: hope!
We are very passionate about is spreading hope for stroke recovery because, far too often, patients are told that they will have a limited recovery, which is often not true!
And we’re here to spread the truth.
15. Chances of a Full Recovery
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2017/06/how-to-recover-from-stroke.png 750w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
When you receive your stroke prognosis from your neurologist, they might say something like, “You might not walk again,” or, “You might never regain use of your hand again.”
Doctors and therapists say things like these to give you the “healthy dose” of realism and set your expectations low so that you’re not disappointed or frustrated by the long road to recovery.
However, the problem is that limiting beliefs like these seep into your own belief system and often prevent you from even trying.
So we say, a fully recovery is absolutely possible for everyone. It doesn’t matter how severe your impairments are. What matters is how hard you’re willing to work and your dedication to never giving up.
There are so many stories of stroke survivors regaining more movement than doctors predicted. You can be one of those stories if you truly believe in yourself and work hard to get there.
16. Hope for Overcoming Paralysis
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2016/08/treatment-for-stroke-paralysis-recovery.png 750w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
Another common myth in stroke rehabilitation is that there’s no hope for overcoming paralysis… Just… No.
There is TONS of hope for stroke paralysis recovery.
The key is to start off with passive movement that helps activate neuroplasticity. Passive movement simply involves using you non-affected limbs to move your paralyzed muscles.
Although you aren’t “doing it yourself,” you’re still activating neuroplasticity, which will help bring movement into your paralyzed limbs. The results will come VERY slowly, but it’s still possible so give it a try.
17. Recovery Is Possible Decades After Stroke
https://d2tkpp75ij92p5.cloudfront.net/uploads/2016/12/full-recovery.jpg 750w" style="border: 0px; border-radius: 3px; display: block; margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto;">
And the last myth that we’d like to debunk is that you cannot recover from stroke after a lot of time has passed… Also, no.
The truth is that you can pick stroke rehabilitation back up after any amount of time – even decades – and continue to recover. We have seen it with our very own eyes.
Some of our customers are 20-something years post stroke and they start improving again once they start trying again.
9 Tips for Stroke Rehabilitation
Overall, stroke rehabilitation is a complicated process, but it can be simplified into these 9 important points:
- A stroke is a brain attack that causes brain damage
- This brain damage causes certain stroke side effects, like impaired movement, that must be overcome through rehabilitation
- The main focus of rehabilitation is to heal brain damage by activating neuroplasticity
- Neuroplasticity is activated by repetitive practice
- The best stroke treatments will involve some sort of repetitive practice
- Understanding the size and location of your stroke will help you understand which side effects you will experience and how long your recovery will take
- No matter what anyone says, there’s more hope for a full recovery than you realize
- There’s also more hope for stroke paralysis recovery than most people realize
- Recovery is always possible, even decades after stroke
We hope this guide has helped you understand what stroke rehabilitation is all about. If you have any questions, please leave them for us in the comments section below!