You’ve heard us preach about the importance of neuroplasticity for stroke recovery before. It’s the #1 thing all stroke survivors should know about.
Neuroplasticity is the healing you need, and repetition is the tool for accessing that healing and speeding your recovery along.
In order to explain why repetition matters so much, we will give a brief overview of neuroplasticity first.
Neuroplasticity – The King of Rehab
Neuroplasticity is the mechanism that your brain uses to rewire itself.
There are two ways that neuroplasticity works: the creation of new connections between neurons (brain cells), and the deletion of old connections.
After stroke, a chunk of the brain is damaged and those brain cells are unable to carry out their tasks. For example, arm movement can become difficult after stroke if the part of the brain responsible for arm movement is affected.
In order to heal from this damage, the surrounding areas of the brain can pick up the slack. Meaning, they can learn the tasks that the damaged parts once controlled. This is neuroplasticity.
But neuroplasticity can only happen through repetitive practice.
Repetition & Neuroplasticity
So if you want to regain arm function after stroke, then you need to repeat arm rehab exercises over and over and over until it sticks and your brain has successfully rewired itself.
Because each time you move your arm, you begin to form and strengthen the connections between the neurons responsible for that arm movement.
That’s why learning a language is so difficult, for instance. We have to repeat new words over and over and over again until they stick. Similarly, that’s why learning how to play a new sport requires lots of practice.
You’re forming new connections in the brain, and it takes time.
So when you grow frustrated during rehab (which is perfectly normal and understandable – here’s an article on how to deal with it), remind yourself of the intricate work that you’re doing.
You’re rewiring your brain!
You’re calling upon your brain the same way that professional athletes call upon their brain. You’re forming new neural networks – and it’s phenomenal!
Repetition & Consistency
So you’ve got the repetition part down now, so you’re good, right? All your bases are covered…
Well, not quite.
The neurons in your brain need good repetition in order to strengthen themselves, but they also need consistency in order to stick.
For example, if you’re really good about repeating your rubber band hand exercises 50 times each, but you only do that once a week, then you’re in trouble.
Because 50 repetitions is great! But the time in between rehab sessions will cause those new connections to weaken.
So if you want to maximize your healing, you need to be repetitious and consistent with your rehab exercises.
Repetition & Motivation
All the examples we’ve been using so far have revolved around movement after stroke – and for good reason. It’s important for your quality of life, safety, and independence.
But another way that you can use neuroplasticity to improve your quality of life is by using it to hardwire motivation into your brain.
This is especially important for those who procrastinate on their rehab exercises or can’t find the willpower to keep going.
Because when you feel like giving up, there’s a thought in your brain telling you to give up. And if that’s a pattern, then your brain is really good at telling you to give up! (Repetitive practice still works even if you’re not aware of it.)
So if you tell yourself to keep going – to keep taking one small step each and every day – and you do that over and over and over, then you will hardwire persistence into your brain.
If you tell yourself that you’ve got this – that all your hard work will pay off even if you can’t see results yet – and you repeat that to yourself multiple times a day, then you will hardwire confidence into your brain.
You have the power to become whatever you want to become.
It’s just a matter of letting go of old connections (like self-doubt and fear) and forming new ones (like persistence and balance).
So, what will you use neuroplasticity for?
Will you repeat those rehab exercises consistently from here on out?
Will you talk kindly to yourself consistently, too?
We always encourage both 🙂