Learning how to recover from stroke can be overwhelming sometimes, but you came to the right place.
We’re going to cover the best practices when it comes to recovering from stroke; starting with these 15 common mistakes and the best ways to fix them.
1. Become an Expert on All Possible Stroke Side Effects
The biggest mistake: Leaving room for surprise with possible side effects
The size and location of stroke has a significant impact on the side effects that will develop. Every stroke is different, and every recovery will be different. Staying on top of all possible stroke side effects is a must.
For example, a left-hemisphere stroke that damages the language center of the brain can result in aphasia, a language disorder. On the other hand, a right-hemisphere stroke that damages the emotion center of the brain can result in emotional lability, an emotional disorder.
By staying on top of the potential side effects that you may experience, you can avoid panic when something goes wrong.
2. Understand the Natural Ebb and Flow of Recovery
The biggest mistake: Panicking when your results start to backslide
When your progress starts to backslide after stroke, it could be a sign of regression. True regression, however, is very rare. Most often, backsliding during stroke recovery is simply a part of the process. Stroke recovery goes up and down.
It’s very normal to take two steps forward and one step back – or even five steps back. While it can be frustrating, trust that when you zoom out and look at the big picture, there’s always an upward pattern of growth.
3. Focus on (Arguably) the Single Most Important Ingredient of Recovery: Repetition
The biggest mistake: Forgetting that rehab exercise is about retraining the brain
If you’re practicing your rehab exercises inconsistently, you’re not going to see results. Your brain needs a high number of repetitions in order to successfully rewire itself and heal. This rewiring process is known as neuroplasticity, and it’s imperative for a successful rehabilitation. Without a high number of repetitions and a consistent rehab routine, your brain won’t have what it needs to recover lost movement. So don’t exercise in vain – make sure that you’re utilizing a high number of repetitions so that your efforts produce results.
4. Know When More Exercise Is Better… And When It’s Not
The biggest mistake: Exercising too much
While repetition is important, too much exercise can start to hinder your progress. You need a good amount of rest and sleep in order to successfully recover. During sleep, your brain stores information related to motor tasks that you performed that day. Think of it as your brain’s opportunity to file important documents about motor recovery that it can access later. You don’t want to skip out on that! So be sure to take breaks during your rehab exercises and get lots of sleep.
5. Endlessly Experiment with Therapy Until You Find the ONE
The biggest mistake: Settling for a mediocre rehabilitation regimen
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that rehab exercises should take center stage during your stroke recovery. Some of our favorite physical therapies are Mirror Therapy and Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy and our very own FitMi full-body therapy. These are powerful programs that are designed to help you activate neuroplasticity and see the results you desire. No matter what you choose, keep searching and trying different rehabilitation options until you find the one that provides the most benefit to you.
6. Get Rid of Spasticity the Most Effective, Natural Way
The biggest mistake: Using Botox to relieve spasticity without a proper exercise regimen
Spasticity is muscle stiffness that occurs when stroke damages part of the brain that controls your muscles.
A common treatment for spasticity is Botox… While Botox is effective, it’s only a temporary treatment, and you’ll need to keep going back for more. Botox doesn’t help rewire the brain and address the root problem.
The best way to get rid of spasticity – which is also an all-natural treatment – is by rewiring your brain with repetitive rehab exercise. By performing therapeutic movements over and over, you rewire the brain and your muscles will relax again.
7. Keep Your Stroke Prevention Game Strong
The biggest mistake: Focusing so much on recovery that you forget about prevention
Stroke prevention is absolutely essential for stroke survivors since one stroke increases your risk of a second. To manage your risk of recurrent stroke, a good place to start is our stroke prevention guidelines where we lay the groundwork for how to prevent a stroke.
We also know that many stroke survivors live with high anxiety from worrying about having another stroke. If you find yourself constantly stressed out about the risk of recurrent stroke, see these tips on reducing anxiety.
8. Forget What They Said – A Full Recovery IS Possible
The biggest mistake: Not believing that a full recovery is possible
A full recovery is something that we believe in – and it’s something that you need to believe in too. We’ve written about it extensively, but the crux of what you need to know is that compensation techniques can become an option. While they might be necessary in the beginning stages – it’s possible to reach a point where you can push past them.
For the full story, refer to our guide on how to fully recover from stroke.
9. Give Your Brain the Feedback It Needs
The biggest mistake: Doing rehab exercises without clear success or failure cues
Your brain needs to know if you’ve done something right or wrong. So when performing your rehab exercises, there’s a big difference between an exercise that gives you direct feedback and one that doesn’t. For example, if you’re working on hand mobility and you sit down and wiggle your hand back and forth, it’s not going to do much for you. Your brain needs clear and concrete signs that you’ve done something right or wrong in order to accelerate recovery. So when choosing rehab exercises, make sure that there’s clear feedback for you (and your brain) to work with.
10. Don’t Stop at the Plateau! Recovery Only Stops When You Stop
The biggest mistake: Giving up on recovery when results slow down
Unfortunately, the plateau is real — but! It doesn’t mean what you might think it means. While it’s true that recovery typically slows down after about 3-6 months after stroke, it does not mean that progress will stop. Recovery will only stop when YOU stop. If you experience a plateau, it’s a sign to double up on your efforts, not back down.
11. Bust Through Plateaus with Variety and Challenge – They’re the Spice of Rehabilitation
The biggest mistake: Keeping your regimen the same
One reason a plateau occurs is because your brain gets used to the stimulation you’re giving it. A great way to bust through a plateau is to switch up your regimen so that your brain has a new kind of stimulation. You can also reverse a plateau by increasing the challenge of your regimen. Challenge is an important ingredient in stroke recovery, and you need to have the perfect amount (not too much, not too little). It’s likely that a plateau can happen from too little challenge. By increasing the challenge in your regimen, you can bounce back from a plateau.
12. Find Friends to Lean On
The biggest mistake: Going it alone
As you progress through your stroke recovery, you’re likely to have a team of therapists and doctors supporting you. Once you’re on your own, though, it’s important not to stay alone! Make time in your schedule to socialize and relax with friends and family. Having others around can help ease any depression and anxiety that might creep up on you during your recovery.
Our stroke support group on Facebook is a great place to find support from other stroke survivors.
13. Hold Hope for Recovery from Post-Stroke Paralysis
The biggest mistake: Believing that recovery isn’t possible – there’s always hope
There’s always hope for overcoming post-stroke paralysis.
Even when doctors say that there’s no hope for recovery, they’re just legally obligated to say that. You should always believe in the best possible outcome because there are so many stories of stroke survivors recovering far more than doctors expected.
Furthermore, believing that recovery is possible will motivate you to take the action necessary to get there. See this guide on how to recover from post-stroke paralysis even when you think there’s no hope.
14. Give Alternative Treatment a Try
The biggest mistake: Dismissing alternative treatments that could have a huge impact
Some stroke survivors respond very well to acupuncture treatments. Others don’t see much benefit. This is because every stroke is different, and everyone will benefit from different therapies. If you have reached a plateau in your recovery, then alternative treatments like acupuncture could give your brain the stimulation it needs to recover. You’ll never know until you try!
15. Focusing on Time Instead of Speed
The biggest mistake: Asking “how long will recovery take?” instead of “what can I do to speed up recovery?”
If you’re curious about how long stroke recovery might take, know that it’s very tough to estimate recovery time. Generally speaking, recovery from mild stroke could take around 6 months and recovery from massive stroke could take years or even decades.
It can be frustrating to focus on how much longer recovery might take, so shift your focus to something empowering: things you can do to speed recovery along. (Hint: Repetition, like we mentioned earlier, is the key to a fast recovery.)
Follow all 15 of these steps, and you will be on the fast track to recovery.