Benefits of Priming for Stroke Rehab

Benefits of Priming for Stroke Rehab

Priming is a phenomenon that gets far too little attention, in our opinion. Today you’ll learn what priming is and how it can immensely benefit your rehabilitation routine.

What Is Priming?

Priming for stroke rehab involves training both of your upper limbs in a synchronized fashion (i.e. bilateral training) before you start your rehab exercises. During a study on the effectiveness of priming, participants with moderate to severe arm hemiparesis were asked to use the Rocker machine (a funny-looking hand device you can find pictured in the study) to prime themselves before their rehab exercises. With the Rocker device, participants were instructed to use their ‘good’ hand to rhythmically move their wrists back and forth. The coupled, rhythmic movement between both arms was intended to excite the brain and ‘prime’ it for the discrete rehab exercises after.

Now we’ll discuss the difference between rhythmic priming movements and discrete rehab exercises.

Rhythmic vs Discrete Movements

Priming utilizes rhythmic movement, whereas most rehab exercises utilize discrete movements. These discrete movements include point-to-point, goal-oriented actions, like reaching for a cup or opening a door. On the other hand, rhythmic movements are identified as periodic behavior that alternates between rest and movement. For example, running exhibits a rhythmic pattern as your legs alternate between ‘rest’ (when your foot is in the air) and movement (when your foot is actively pushing off the pavement). Your heart also beats in a rhythmic movement.

Now let’s see how these two types of movement can boost your stroke recovery when paired together.

How Rhythmic Priming Boosts Stroke Recovery

According to MedScape Medical News, priming can accelerate the recovery of hand and arm function by enhancing the part of the brain that regulates movement. In another study on bilateral training, it was shown that priming and rehab exercises together resulted in larger motor recovery than rehab exercises alone. Those who did priming before rehab exercises not only saw larger results, but they kept those results at a future follow-up. The study concluded that bilateral training (i.e. priming) is an effective form of rehabilitation for stroke survivors with moderate to severe arm hemiparesis.

While the priming device used in these studies isn’t for sale, talk with your physical therapist to see how you can work some priming into your rehabilitation routine.

Did this spark any questions? Leave us a comment below and we’ll be sure to get back to you!