Some stroke patients only needs months to recover, while others require years.
Why is that?
Well, every stroke is different, so every stroke recovery timeline will be different.
If you feel left in the dark because your medical team cannot provide a definitive answer, that’s why. But we’re here to help shed some light.
Using clinical studies and first-hand stories from other stroke survivors, we have created the following stroke recovery timeline that covers Day 1 to Year 20.
We hope you find it useful on your road to recovery.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Stroke Recovery Timeline Part 1: The Early Stages
Your recovery may not follow this exactly, but it will give you an idea of what the stroke recovery process will be like.
Day 1: The Stroke Is Treated
A stroke occurs when an artery in the brain becomes clogged or ruptured, depriving parts of the brain of oxygen-rich blood.
This causes the hallmark stroke symptoms summarized in the acronym FAST: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Slurred speech, Time is brain! (Source: National Stroke Association)
When stroke occurs, you need to be rushed to an emergency room where doctors can perform emergency stroke treatment.
- Clot-busting drugs like aspirin or tPA are administered for ischemic strokes (caused by a blood clot in the brain)
- Surgery is often used to treat hemorrhagic strokes (caused by a burst artery in the brain)
The faster treatment is administered, the better outcomes will be.
Day 2: Rehabilitation Begins at a Startling Pace
Once the stroke has been resolved, stroke rehabilitation begins!
This happens quickly because your medical team wants to take advantage of the heightened state of plasticity that your brain is in.
This means that immediately after injury, your brain is rapidly forming new neural connections to recover from the damage, and you will see the fastest improvements during this window.
That’s why your physiatrist (rehabilitation specialist) will start rehabilitation as fast as possible – usually from your hospital bed.
During this initial stage, rehabilitation interventions are mostly passive (i.e. the therapists moves your muscles for you) and emphasize prevention of other side effects like contractures, pressure ulcers, and muscle atrophy. (Source: Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation)
The sooner rehabilitation begins, the shorter your stroke recovery timeline will be.
1 Week: Discharge from the Hospital
The severity and location of the stroke will determine how quickly you get discharged from the hospital.
Those who suffered minor strokes will be discharged quickly, often within the first week, generally speaking. Massive stroke survivors may take longer to get discharged.
If stroke side effects are severe and patients cannot survive independently (i.e. they require a ventilator or feeding tube), they may be transferred to an acute care hospital.
You can use this infographic on the stroke recovery process to see where your recovery may take you:
1 Month: Inpatient Rehab Ends, Outpatient Therapy Begins
If you’re strong enough to participate in 3 or more hours of therapy a day most days of the week, then you’ll be sent to an inpatient rehab facility.
There, you will work aggressively with physical and occupational therapists to recover your stroke side effects.
Your physical therapist will guide you through various stroke exercises to improve your mobility. Occupational therapists will help you relearn the activities of daily living, like getting dressed and toileting.
Since your brain is in a heightened state of plasticity during the first 3 months, your hard work during inpatient rehab will have a dramatic effect on your recovery.
Put in hard work here so that you can see amplified results.
3 Months: The Plateau Takes Effect (Don’t Stop Here)
After 3 months of rehabilitation, the brain’s plasticity starts to slow down.
As a result, your improvements may slow down as well. This is called the plateau effect after stroke – don’t let it deter you.
You can still make strides in your recovery after the plateau has occurred.
Unfortunately, most inpatient rehab facilities will discharge you once the plateau has taken effect.
This is simply a sign that you need to spice up your physical therapy regimen at home. By continuing your rehabilitation at home, you can continue to improve.
We’ll dig into that process next.
Stroke Recovery Timeline Part 2: Milestones during Rehab at Home
Once you’re discharged and sent home, your recovery is in your hands. If you’re proactive about home rehabilitation, you will experience a robust recovery from stroke.
Here’s what your stroke recovery timeline at home might look like:
6 Months: Outpatient Therapy Continues
Once you get discharged from inpatient rehab, you will begin outpatient rehab, where you travel to the clinic for physical and occupational therapy and then go home.
During these visits, you will work alongside trained therapists to continue rehabilitating your stroke side effects.
At this point in your stroke recovery timeline, developing an effective stroke rehabilitation regimen at home is critical to your success.
If you struggle with mobility impairments after stroke, try doing daily stroke exercises at home. This will keep your progress moving in between outpatient physical therapy as well.
1 Year: Minor Stroke Recovery Finishes, Massive Stroke Recovery Continues
At the one year mark, things really start to vary from patient to patient.
Those who sustained minor strokes may be fully recovered by now; while massive stroke survivors may be in the middle of rehabilitation.
Often, individuals with aphasia have recovered their speech at the 1 year mark – enough to improve their quality of life – if they have been aggressively participating in speech therapy. (Source: Aphasiology Journal)
If you suffer from language difficulties like aphasia after stroke, try using speech therapy apps at home to keep improving. They can boost your progress in between outpatient therapy visits.
You can also work with a speech-language pathologist who is highly trained in rehabilitation from speech problems after stroke.
2 Years: Extremities Start to Improve
Often, fine motor skills and foot drop are the last functions to come back after stroke. These last phases of the stroke recovery timeline can become tedious.
Recovering your extremities (hands and feet) can take years without extra outpatient therapy visits or home rehab exercise tools.
Massive stroke survivors who suffer from post-stroke paralysis may also start to see more improvements in their mobility at this stage.
Constraint-induced movement therapy can effectively help you recover from arm (upper-extremity) paralysis after stroke. (Source: Science Direct)
10 Years: Recovery Is Still Possible
Most stroke survivors will achieve independence at the 10-year mark. However, some patients may have neglected rehabilitation during the early stages.
When recovery has been neglected, there is still hope, even a decade after stroke.
Plenty of research shows that aging adults can still engage neuroplasticity through rigorous training programs. (Source: Progress in Brain Research)
So although the brain is not in a heightened state of plasticity anymore – recovery is still possible at any age and any stage after stroke.
If you neglected rehabilitation, just pick up where you left off. When you start to stimulate your brain and put in the work, your brain will respond.
And if you ever start to lose faith, just read inspiring stroke recovery stories. There are many stroke survivors who successfully recover decades after their stroke.
20 Years: Never Give Up Hope
After a couple decades, it can be hard to imagine that recovery is still possible, but it is! We have seen it with our very own eyes.
Stroke patients who neglected hand rehabilitation for decades can begin hand therapy exercises and see results. Even two decades after stroke, recovery is possible.
Seriously – we have seen stroke patients improve hand function 20+ years after their stroke by using our MusicGlove.
It just goes to show: when you put in the effort, the brain will respond.
Focus on high repetition to speed up neuroplasticity. The more you practice something, the stronger the new connections in your brain will become.
Repetition is arguably the most important ingredient in a solid stroke recovery regimen.
And that concludes our stroke recovery timeline!
If you’re a stroke survivor, please share your story with us in the comments below!