Stroke rehabilitation is a complex process.
It starts with stroke treatment in the hospital. Then it typically moves to rehabilitation in the clinic and at home.
This guide will explain 12 essential steps of the stroke rehabilitation process.
We hope it helps bring clarity on your road to recovery.
Let’s get started.
Understanding Stroke Rehabilitation
Let’s start with the definition of a stroke.
1. Stroke Rehabilitation Is All About the Brain
The causes of stroke are similar to a heart attack – but in the brain. That’s why stroke is also known as a “brain attack.”
A stroke occurs when the supply of blood in the brain is cut off by either a clogged artery (ischemic stroke) or burst artery (hemorrhagic stroke).
Since brain cells cannot survive without oxygen, the lack of oxygen-rich blood causes brain damage which results in stroke side effects.
The side effects that you experience depends on where the stroke occurred in your brain, which we will discuss next.
2. Each Patient Will Have a Different Stroke Rehabilitation Process
The brain is composed of many different parts that each control different functions like language, emotion, and logic.
Stroke can occur in any area of the brain and affect different functions, making every stroke unique.
3. The Size and Location of Stroke Impacts Rehabilitation
Every stroke patient should ask their neurologist about the size and location of their stroke. It has serious implications for rehabilitation.
Each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body.
For example, when there’s a stroke on the left side of the brain, it can impair the right side of the body.
Other side effects are more ambiguous, like prosopagnosia (difficulty recognizing faces) after a right side stroke.
That’s why understanding the location of your stroke is very important during rehabilitation.
4. Neuroplasticity Is the Driver of Recovery
Activating neuroplasticity is the #1 most important thing during stroke rehabilitation. Here’s why:
Neuroplasticity is the process that your brain uses to heal itself after injury. It’s how new neural connections are formed.
When part of the brain becomes damaged after stroke, neuroplasticity allows your brain to rewire the healthy parts of your brain to pick up the slack.
This is how you can rehabilitate the side effects of stroke.
We’ll show you how to activate neuroplasticity next.
5. Massed Practice Is Key to Stroke Rehabilitation
Neuroplasticity is activated by massed practice, which means high repetition.
When a task is repeated frequently, the neurons responsible for that task become more efficient at their job.
For example, repeating stroke exercises over and over helps your brain become more efficient at moving your muscles.
Repetition is key to recovery!
Stroke Rehabilitation Timeline
Now that you know how to treat your stroke side effects, you might be wondering long how all of this might take. Let’s take a look.
6. Stroke Rehabilitation Begins as Soon as Possible
Usually, stroke rehabilitation begins the day after stroke treatment has been administered.
Although this can be overwhelming to the patient, therapists must capitalize on the “heightened state of plasticity” that the brain is in immediately after injury.
Rehabilitation done during these early stages will have a greater impact on recovery.
7. The Timeline for Recovery Varies Greatly Among Patients
Every stroke patient will have a different stroke recovery timeline because every stroke is different.
Generally speaking, however, people who recover from a minor stroke can recover within 6 months to a year. For more massive stroke, rehabilitation could take years.
Although this might feel overwhelming, don’t lose hope! While stroke rehabilitation is a long process, there is tons of hope for recovery.
With a strong rehabilitation program, even a full recovery is within reach, which we will discuss later.
8. The Plateau Is Real and Surmountable
Plateaus during stroke rehabilitation are real and well-documented.
Most patients will see a slowdown during stroke recovery at about the 3-6 month mark.
This does NOT mean that recovery is over. Although your progress slows down, it will not stop as long as you don’t stop.
Plateaus are real and normal, and you can reverse them by providing your brain with the right stimulation.
Specifically, you want to get some variety and challenge into your regimen to shake things up and get your results moving along again.
9. Know How to Reverse Regression
Drawing by Demitri Martin
During stroke rehabilitation, patients often take two steps forward, one step back. This is normal.
Small declines in progress are normal and should not be stressed over.
When you zoom out and look at the big picture, there should be a trend of upward progress.
When there are dramatic regressions, however, you should seek urgent medical attention.
Stroke Rehabilitation Process (Going to the Clinic and Back Home)
Now that you understand the general timeline and patterns that happen during stroke rehabilitation, let’s talk about where it all takes place.
10. Stroke Rehabilitation Usually Continues with Inpatient Therapy
After the short hospital stay after stroke treatment, most patients are either discharged home or sent to inpatient rehabilitation.
During inpatient therapy sessions at the clinic, you will work with physical and/or occupational therapist to rehabilitate your side effects.
Unfortunately, insurance often stops coverage once the plateau hits. At this point, it’s important to find a solid home therapy program to follow.
11. A Strong Home Rehabilitation Regimen Is Essential
The key to effective stroke rehabilitation at home is to do something every day if the body can tolerate it.
(Taking days off for rest can actually help speed up recovery because the brain needs rest in order to heal!)
Ask your therapist for effective stroke exercises to practice at home, or get your own home therapy system.
The benefit of home therapy systems, like Flint Rehab’s FitMi, is that massed practice is easier to accomplish.
12. Different Home Therapies Should Be Experimented
Every patient will benefit from different forms of therapy.
Other great at-home physical therapy for stroke patients includes:
- Mirror therapy
- Mental practice
- Constraint-induced movement therapy
Experiment and see what benefits you the most.
Finding Hope during Stroke Rehabilitation
And now we’ve reached our final and favorite part: hope!
Statistically, only 10% of stroke patients achieve a full recovery. While that might not leave much room for hope, consider this:
Massed practice can be applied to almost anything. Here are some examples:
- Movement impairments can be recovered by practicing physical therapy exercises
- Speech impairments can be remedied through speech therapy exercises
- Memory impairments can be recovered by practicing memory games
Simply practicing the things you want to get better at can help you recover from most stroke side effect.
When you put in the work (i.e. massed practice) the brain will respond. Your brain will never stops trying to recover, and neither should you.
We hope this guide has helped you understand what stroke rehabilitation is all about!