A Survivor’s Guide to Becoming a Stroke Recovery Expert

A Survivor’s Guide to Becoming a Stroke Recovery Expert

Every stroke survivor should become their own stroke recovery expert because it will open so many doors!

First we’ll explain why, and then move onto the how.

Because there’s a lot you should know in order to become a stroke recover expert, we broke this up into a 3-part series:

There’s a lot to dig into, so let’s get started.

Ask Better Questions

Becoming a stroke recovery expert will help you ask better questions. This is crucial for discovering new opportunities.

For example, a survivor who asks his therapist, “Will mirror therapy help my hand function improve?” will get a much better response than someone who says, “Why aren’t my hand exercises working?”

With the second statement, a therapist may simply explain why it’s not working, and leave it at that. With the first statement, a therapist will consider whether or not mirror therapy is a good fit for you, and if so, they’ll probably try it out!

This could lead to much more success and far less frustration on your end.

So don’t be afraid to ask knowledgeable questions! And if you aren’t seeing a therapist regularly, you can ask your questions right here on the blog in the comments section.

Now, in order to ask knowledgeable questions, you need to start with good understanding.

So let’s dig in, shall we?

Understanding How the Brain Recovers

To quickly cover the basics, a stroke is a ‘brain attack’ that cuts off the supply of blood to parts of the brain, resulting in the loss of brain cells in that area. These damaged parts of the brain can no longer fulfill their duties, which creates stroke side effects, like impaired movement.

The brain has a mechanism to heal itself after injury like this by rewiring healthy, surrounding parts of the brain to take over lost functions of the damaged parts of the brain.

This rewiring process is called neuroplasticity – and it’s the single most important thing for all stroke survivors to become experts on.

We recommend reading How the Brain Changes Itself for deep insight into the phenomenon. (We are unaffiliated with the book, and the link is unaffiliated as well.)

Rinse, Repeat

As an expert on neuroplasticity, you should know that the best way to trigger it is through repetitive practice. Each time you repeat a thought or action, the connections in your brain responsible for that thought or action become stronger.

Then, each time you repeat thereafter, the connections will continue to get stronger and stronger. That’s how repetitive rehab exercise leads to improved movement.

Why You Need Lots of Sleep

As you continue to diligently perform your rehab exercises, your brain will continue to heal, and it will take up a LOT of your energy.

Your brain normally uses 20% of your energy – and that percentage only goes up when it’s trying to heal itself. So if you feel like taking naps all the time after stroke, listen to your body.

Sleeping a lot after stroke is perfectly normal, and sleep is highly recommended during recovery.

Allow yourself to sleep as much as you want/can.

Never Stop Moving

Every survivor should also be aware of the phenomenon of learned nonuse.

Learned nonuse occurs when you completely stop using your affected muscles. And if the neglect continues for long enough, it can cause your brain to completely forget how to use those muscles!

That’s why it’s important to move your affected muscles at least a little everyday – otherwise you can completely lose it. (The phrase “use it or lose it” came from this concept.)

So move a little every day and you’ll prevent this from happening.

Know All Your Therapy Options

And there are many, many ways to move.

During stroke recovery, it’s essential to experiment with various therapies until you find the one that benefits you the most. Some of these options include mirror therapy, constraint-induced movement therapy, and music therapyamong others.

Do some good research and see what resonates with you.

Trying different forms of therapy is also a great way to bust through a plateau.

Understanding Plateaus

As you move through your recovery, you may hit a wall about three months in where your results start to slow down. Don’t panic – this is a natural plateau, which does not imply an end. We repeat…

A PLATEAU DOES NOT MEAN THE END OF RECOVERY!

Recovery only stops when you stop. A plateau simply means that things are slowing down for the time being, but you can continue to improve so long as you stick with your regimen.

Rehab Exercise at Home

There are a few keys to succeeding at rehab at home, and the biggest key is to take small steps.

When you’re at home and don’t feel like exercising, try to do it for just 5 minutes. Five minutes, and that’s all. Chances are, once you get going, you won’t stop. And even if you do – those 5 minutes are still helping your brain rewire itself!

If you ever want to switch up your at-home regimen, we have a lot of stroke rehab exercises here on the blog that you can try.

Up next is part 2: How to Deal with Stroke Side Effects and Limitations the Smart Way

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  • Krystn Still

    Once again you stated use it or lose it. If you lose it from nonuse you definitely will become worse which I have over the past few years. I know that my recovery is that much more challenging and difficult as I am having to retrain my body to untwist itself which occurs from nonuse and spasticity. I would like to still believe that I can make great gains with hard work and determination and that there is still hope for people that unfortunately suffer from severe depression for years following such a loss before accepting their new body and circumstances. I believe it’s never too late and I sure pray that I am right because I am trying harder than I ever have before.

    Sent from my iPad

    • Flint Rehab

      It’s so good to hear that you’re trying harder now than ever before. That’s wonderful! What sparked the sudden burst in motivation?

      • Krystn Still

        Fear of losing even more of my independence scared me into motivation. My left (only functioning) hand had ongoing carpal tunnel syndrome for 2 – 3 years. Becoming so severe from overuse, it was highly recommended I proceed with surgery to release the nerve pressure and pain. I would’ve never imagined such a common procedure could go wrong, however unfortunately it did and I was left in constant pain which was clearly not improving. I traveled to be diagnosed by a Neurologist a few months following my surgery as the ongoing pain was so extreme which now also included a chronic burning and muscle strain side effect throughout my entire arm as well. It was determined I still have severe carpal tunnel syndrome and suspected a nerve had been severed during the surgery. Fearing the risk, they did not want to chance another surgery at that point. I will be re-evaluated in one years time. I’m now struggling terribly with both or lack of both of my hands. So fear motivated me and know I now I NEED to gain greater function on my affected side and as difficult as it most certainly is, I am truly trying my best both mentally and physically more than ever.

        Question: Has there ever been discussion regarding sensation and loss of feeling following stroke?

      • Krystn Still

        Fear of losing even more of my independence scared me into motivation. My left (only functioning) hand had ongoing carpal tunnel syndrome for 2 – 3 years. Becoming so severe from overuse, it was highly recommended I proceed with surgery to release the nerve pressure and pain. I would’ve never imagined such a common procedure could go wrong, however unfortunately it did and I was left in constant pain which was clearly not improving. I traveled to be diagnosed by a Neurologist a few months following my surgery as the ongoing pain was so extreme which now also included a chronic burning and muscle strain side effect throughout my entire arm as well. It was determined I still have severe carpal tunnel syndrome and suspected a nerve had been severed during the surgery. Fearing the risk, they did not want to chance another surgery at that point, and I will be re-evaluated in one years time. I’m now struggling terribly with both or lack of both my hands. I know I NEED to gain greater function on my affected side and as difficult as it most certainly is, I am truly trying my best both mentally and physically now more than ever.

        Question: Has there ever been discussion regarding sensation and loss of feeling following stroke?

        Sent from my iPad

        • Flint Rehab

          I am so sorry to hear about the pain that you are in. Your ambition is inspiring. I haven’t written about sensation yet, but our last article about oxygen therapy does mention that some survivors regain sensation through the therapy. https://www.flintrehab.com/2016/know-oxygen-therapy-stroke-patients/ and I will try to write something specifically on sensation once I do some good research 🙂

  • disqus_xCETf7ZLk0

    Never let anyone tell you you cannot achieve your goal, or how to achieve it. In private, you can formulate methods/activities/exercises which stretch/challenge, and often frustrate you (without negative comments/ instructions to learn to do it another way/with the other hand)! If you keep repeating things which challenge your existing limits, you gradually see the boundaries move! I openly avoid anyone who tells me I cannot do it- harsh perhaps, but my life is worth fighting ANYONE over!

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