Constraint-induced movement therapy can help stroke survivors regain hand and arm movement.
It even works for chronic hemiplegia, which involves paralysis of the affected side of the body.
There’s a lot of hope wrapped into constraint-induced movement therapy, so here’s everything you should know.
What Is Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy?
Constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT) is a challenging form of rehabilitation where the affected side is “constrained” from participating.
This forces use of the affected side.
CIMT is based on 3 key principles:
- Constraining the unaffected limb
- Forcing use of the affected limb, and
- ‘Massed practice,’ which is just a fancy way of saying ‘lots of repetitions’
Sounds simple enough, right? That’s because it is!
To incorporate CIMT into your regimen, all you have to do is restrain your ‘good’ arm while you exercise and practice daily tasks with the other.
Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy Is Tough Love for Stroke Recovery
Constraint-induced movement therapy is a ‘tough love’ rehabilitation strategy that prevents shortcuts by stopping the use of compensation strategies.
Do you tend to use your ‘good’ arm to compensate for the lack of mobility in the other?
If so, that’s a compensation strategy, and it could be preventing you from recovering to your fullest potential.
Compensation strategies are helpful for getting things done, and sometimes even necessary, but constraint-induced movement therapy takes a different approach:
Make things more difficult now so that life can be easier later on.
How to Start Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy Exercises
When beginning constraint-induced movement therapy, it is important to challenge yourself by increasing the difficulty level little by little every day (this process is commonly known as shaping).
With that in mind, try these CIMT exercises, starting with the easier ones and progressing to the more difficult ones as you get stronger:
1. Play Cards with Your Affected Hand
Put your affected arm behind your back and try to play a simple card game like solitaire.
Because constraint-induced movement therapy can be frustrating, a nice game of war can provide an outlet for that extra steam.
Although it may feel very difficult in the beginning, getting one card moved is a mini victory. Keep trying!
2. Practice Turning the Pages of a Book
Turn the pages of a magazine with your affected hand while sitting on your non-affected hand to keep it from participating.
This exercise can be difficult because it involves very fine gripping movements, but if you bend the corners of the page up and fan them out, they’ll be easier to pinch.
When first starting, you can stop after turning one page. As you get better, increase the number of pages to keep yourself challenged.
3. Trace Your Own Handwriting
When you’re ready for a real challenge, practice writing with your affected hand by tracing your signature.
Simply place an old check underneath a piece of glass or paper and trace your signature using a dry-erase marker or pen. And at the end of it all, you could be ambidextrous!
(We actually got this idea from a comment that a reader left on a previous post – thanks Dan!)
Have Patience with the Frustration that CIMT May Cause
For maximum results, try to practice constraint-induced movement therapy every day. (Remember, massed practice!)
Although constraint-induced movement therapy is very effective, it can also be very frustrating.
If you attempt these exercises at home, be very kind and patient with yourself as you get started.
It’s normal to grow frustrated, but never give up.
When a therapy shows hope for chronic conditions like hemiplegia, it can be worth the frustration.