Stroke Rehabilitation

Table of contents

Table of contents



Recovering from a stroke is a demanding process. Everyone has a unique experience, with some patients recovering within weeks, months, or even years. Stroke rehabilitation is all about getting you back to normal body functioning. You get to pick up relevant skills you lost when a stroke affects part of your brain. It also helps with regaining independence and improving the quality of life.

While those who suffer from a stroke might recover differently, studies have established focused rehabilitation programs that help speed up the process.


What to expect when you recover

Stroke often results in severe long-term disability characterized by speech, motor, sensory and cognition skills impairment. To recover from all these takes time and can last even years.

The recovery process starts with the doctor stabilizing your condition by restoring blood flow to the brain and reducing pressure on the surrounding area. The earlier you begin the recovery process, the higher the chances of regaining the lost body and brain functions. Therefore, it is normal for the process to start during the initial stay at the hospital.

The brain may get to function by changing the way you perform tasks. Brain rehabilitation works such that you can recover most of the brain functions after a stroke. Resuming blood flow to the brain can also help rejuvenate the brain cells that might have been damaged yet not destroyed. Alternatively, a part of the brain can take up some of the brain’s functions that were previously performed by different parts.

Some of the skills you can expect to recover include:

Speech skills – stroke commonly causes aphasia, a language impairment, which results in general speech difficulty. Speech and language therapy helps recover the language ability, and in case of impaired brain cells, you can develop other alternative communication channels.

Cognitive skills – stroke impairs judgment and reasoning such that you can quickly become withdrawn or outgoing when before you were the opposite. You can also start being reckless as you tend to forget any possible consequences of your actions. The impaired cognitive skills mean you are always a danger to yourself and others. You can regain the lost abilities to make your environment safer through occupational and language therapy.

Sensory skills – a stroke impairs your body’s ability to feel sensory inputs like pressure, heat, and cold. You need therapy to help you regain the lost sensory skills.

Motor skills – the weakening of the body muscles of one side of the body following a stroke can lead to impaired joint movement. You can then find it hard to walk or perform other regular body functions. With physical therapy, you can regain balance and strengthen your muscles.


What does stroke rehabilitation involve

There are multiple approaches to stroke rehabilitation. The option you use will depend on the type of ability or the part of the body affected by the stroke.

Some of the exercises during the stroke rehabilitation include:

Physical therapy

Physical exercises are designed to strengthen muscles and improve coordination. Those who experience stroke tend to experience either temporary or permanent paralysis on the side of the body. They can regain mobility and movement through physical therapy.

Some of the physical activities during the therapy include; motor skill exercises, mobility training, constraint-induced therapy, and range of motion therapy. You can also learn new skills as the body gets back to normal.

Physical therapy stimulates the affected muscles and nerves before they can be used again. It also helps in regaining control and balance. While the brain won't regenerate cells lost during stroke, physical therapy helps reorganize the existing cells. The treatment also helps improve moods, muscles atrophy, and the general quality of life.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy is about getting the body to perform regular activities like driving, household chores, walking, and more. It helps you overcome the physical limitations by adapting to the new environment and avoiding safety concerns.

Occupational therapy involves repetitive activities to help relearn some of the lost skills. Perception training is another method therapists use during occupational therapy to help regain the patient's sensory and perceptual deficits.

The main benefit of occupational therapy is that it improves the patient's quality of life as they can do all the usual activities without being at risk.

Neurological therapy

Neurological therapies are designed to improve motor and cognitive impairments caused by nerve and brain damage following a stroke. It involves magnetic brain stimulation, a noninvasive stroke therapy responsible for speeding up brain healing and neuroplasticity.

Neurological therapy also involves brain exercises like brain teasers, music, puzzles, and creative projects.

The therapy helps a patient learn new patterns and skills at any age. It also helps sharpen the cognitive skills and speeds up walking after a stroke.

Recreational therapy

Recreational therapy is almost similar to occupational therapy, as it helps the patient return to the previous activities or learns new ones. The treatment focuses on leisure activities that help improve mood and the quality of life.

Recreational therapy involves using physical and occupational techniques to regain physical activities and speech therapy to gain communication skills to use when participating in leisure activities.

Mirror therapy

Mirror therapy is a way to get the other parts of the body moving in case of one-sided paralysis. The therapist holds a mirror while the patient watches the unaffected body parts move. With time, the patient will start moving the other parts.

Mirror therapy involves fine motor skill exercises and other small body parts movements. It helps improve motor control of the affected body parts and enhances coordination of the unaffected body parts.


How technology assists

For the longest time, suffering a stroke would mean life long-suffering with physical deficiencies. However, technological advances mean you have a shot at better life quality even with one side of the body losing motor and sensory skills. Some of these advances include:

Vagus nerve stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation is a new kind of treatment paired with physical therapy to speed up the rate of recovery in patients with impaired upper limbs. Even though still in the preliminary phases, studies have shown how vagus nerve stimulation boosts recovery. The process involves implanting patients with a medical device that delivers electrical impulses to the vagus nerve, which controls tasks like sweating, peristalsis, heart rate, and speech.

The electrical stimulations help boost neurons used in muscle movement, hence the better recovery.

Thrombectomy after 6 hours

Thrombectomy involves the removal of blood clots on the blood vessels to help resume normal bodily functions. For the longest time, the medical field believed that thrombectomy could only be performed within 6 hours after stroke. However, studies have established that the process can be achieved 24 hours after a stroke. It means there’s a higher chance of increased quality of life.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality is a new entrant in the stroke recovery sphere used to restore brain recovery. The VR tools are ideal for allowing the patient to control the pace of the treatment programs. It is also cost-effective to keep up the rehabilitation regime once you are done with the in-patient program.

Virtual reality is built on gaming principles, meaning they are fun to use and can help form new habits to quicken recovery.

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is a medical solution that has been in existence for more than two decades for treating depression. However, recent studies have shown it can be used for stroke rehabilitation. It involves placing an electrode near a patient’s head to pass magnetic pulses to the brain.

Video games

Video games are all about introducing the essence of fun to an otherwise severe program. Video game rehabilitation relies on neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to improve some functions to compensate for other lost functions. The concept allows a stroke patient to regain some functions they might have lost.

Video gaming also improves hand-eye coordination, which helps in quick recovery.


When does it start?

Stroke recovery is a tedious and lengthy process that needs you to be committed and willing to work hard. Given that a stroke comes with impaired bodily and brain functions, the earlier you start the rehabilitation program, the better. In most cases, you will begin the program once the doctor stabilizes your condition.

The preliminary stages involve the doctor restoring blood flow to the brain and reducing pressure and other risk factors in the surrounding area. It means rehabilitation starts during the initial stays at the hospital and runs until you fully recover, depending on the severity of the condition.


How long does it last

There is no specific duration that stroke rehabilitation should last. Instead, it all depends on the severity of the stroke and other related complications. While some stroke patients can recover quickly enough, others require long-term rehabilitation programs lasting for months and, at times, years.

No matter how long the rehabilitation lasts, the goal is always to get you to function as normally as possible. The results you gain will always compound over time, such that the more you practice, the more you continue to gain. Generally, those who suffer mild strokes tend to recover quicker than the more severe cases.


Who undertakes it?

There are several specialists involved in stroke rehabilitation. The physician who serves as the primary care specialist gives the necessary guidance and care tips to prevent complications. They also guide the best lifestyle choices to avoid the risk of another stroke.

Rehabilitation nurses care for you during the limitations and help incorporate the skills you learn to help you regain brain functionalities. The nurses are also responsible for managing bowel and bladder complications following the stroke.

You can also work with physical and occupational therapists to help you regain lost functionalities. Other specialists focus on emotional, cognitive, and vocational skills. They include; psychologists, social workers, speech and language pathologists, and vocational counselors.


Where does it take place?

Stroke rehabilitation is a demanding process that starts while you are still in the hospital; however, once you stabilize, you and your family will decide where to take up more extensive exercises based on your condition, insurance, and convenience for the family.

Some of the options of where you can undertake your rehabilitation include;

Inpatient rehabilitation units

The hospital facilities that allow you the resources to start the medications. You can stay for around two to three weeks in an intensive rehabilitation program.

Outpatient units

These are part of the hospital or clinic where you spend a few hours as part of the rehabilitation check-up.

Skilled nursing facilities

Special facilities where you seek rehabilitation services depending on your needs.

Home-based programs

Instead of going for unique locations, you can opt to have a specialist come to you at home. However, the only challenge is the lack of specialized medical tools and unqualified assistants.


How do you get the best out of it?

While recovering from a stroke depends on the nature of the occurrence and facilities, there are many things to do to improve your chances of faster recovery. If you are looking to get the best out of the rehabilitation, you need to have a suitable emotional setup. You need the right mood, motivation, and ability to stick to the regime to help you recover quickly.

Social factors like having the support of friends and family are also crucial to recovery, same as therapeutic factors such as the early start of rehabilitation.



Stroke rehabilitation takes time

Stroke recovery is a long and daunting task. Some days you might find it challenging; you will feel like giving up. However, you will recover in good time with the right mindset and the will to keep going