Stroke Recovery Plateau: What to Do When Progress Slows Down

Stroke Recovery Plateau: What to Do When Progress Slows Down

By Dr. Daniel K. Zondervan

If you or a loved one has had a stroke, you know that the road to recovery is not a straight line.

Often times there is rapid recovery during the first three months, but then progress slows down.

This eventually leads to a dreaded “plateau” in recovery after about six months.

Today we are going to dissect that plateau, and then give you some practical tips on how to get past it.

Is the Stroke Recovery Plateau a Real Thing?

Before we go any further, let’s get the hard truth out of the way.

Plateaus during stroke rehabilitation are real and well-documented.

Basically what this means is that there will come a time when things get difficult.

For a long time, doctors and scientists believed that this was the end of the road.

The good news is that now we know that they were wrong.

Why Do Stroke Recovery Plateaus Occur?

In order to know how to break out of plateaus, it helps to understand what causes them to begin with.

Immediately after a stroke, the brain goes into a “heightened state of plasticity.”

When the brain is damaged by a stroke, it reacts by temporarily making it easier for itself to reorganize.

This reorganization is responsible for a lot of the spontaneous recovery that happens in those first three months after stroke.

Unfortunately, the brain eventually reverts back to a less pliable, but still plastic state.

This can feel like a flat line at first, but additional recovery is still possible.

How to Get Past Stroke Recovery Plateaus in 2 Steps

Step 1: Develop Determination

The most important thing to do after you hit a stroke recovery plateau is… don’t give up.

You may feel like you have stalled out, or that any further recovery is out of your reach.

That is just not true. Study after study has shown that if you continue to work hard, you will get better. Just be patient.

Step 2: Add Variety to Your Regimen

Another great tip to overcome a stroke recovery plateau is to try something new.

Here are some examples of how to add variety to your regimen:

  • Change up your regimen by doing different exercises
  • Try a new type of stroke therapy
  • Pick a new skill you want to learn (like playing piano) and practice that

Simple changes like this can give you a boost, since they add the variety the brain craves during learning.

Plus mixing it up makes it easier to maintain your motivation, because you don’t feel like you are stuck doing the same things day after day.

So remember, don’t give up hope. Even when the road is dark, there is always a light up ahead. You just have to know where to look.

About the Author

Dr. Daniel K. Zondervan received his Ph.D. from UC Irvine, where he performed research on novel methods for optimizing stroke recovery.

He has over six years of experience in the field of rehabilitation science and has published several peer-reviewed journal articles on the topic.

He now writes for Flint in hopes of using that knowledge to impact a broader audience.