After a stroke, many survivors and caregivers find themselves wondering what the chances of recovery from stroke paralysis are. This is a valid question, as paralysis and other secondary effects of stroke can have a major impact on daily function and a survivor’s independence.
However, there is no single answer to this question. Every stroke is different, and therefore every recovery will be different. Recovery from stroke can be a lengthy process, and every survivor will need to find what methods work for them to help increase the chances of recovery from stroke paralysis.
To help shed some light on post-stroke paralysis and what the rehabilitation process entails, this article will discuss the important factors that influence recovery. Additionally, we will review some effective treatment methods to help you get started and will also share a success story to encourage you on your journey.
Use the links below to jump straight to any section:
- Factors that Influence the Chances of Recovery from Stroke Paralysis
- Studies Show Long-Term Rehabilitation Is Key to Recovery
- How the Brain and Body Recover After Stroke Paralysis
- Methods for Rehabilitation After Post-Stroke Paralysis
- Stroke Paralysis Success Story
Factors that Influence the Chances of Recovery from Stroke Paralysis
Causes of Stroke Paralysis
After a stroke, many survivors experience weakness or paralysis of one half of the body, called hemiplegia or hemiparesis. In this article, we will primarily be discussing hemiplegia, the more severe of the two.
This paralysis of one-half of the body occurs when areas of the brain responsible for movement, like the motor cortex, are damaged due to stroke. When this damage occurs, the pathways between the brain and muscles that communicate movement signals are disrupted. As a result, the muscles are left in a state of paralysis. This can negatively impact a survivor’s function and contribute to other complications like muscle atrophy.
The brain is divided into two hemispheres, or halves, and each hemisphere is responsible for motor function on the opposite half of the body. For this reason, a right hemisphere stroke can lead to left hemiplegia, and a left hemisphere stroke can result in right hemiplegia.
Stroke Paralysis Recovery Factors
If you are concerned about your chances of recovery from stroke paralysis, it’s important to understand that stroke recovery is highly individualized. Every stroke is different and every brain is wired uniquely, therefore recovery is unique to every person. Additionally, a survivor’s recovery can depend heavily on their health status before the stroke. This can make it difficult to predict the outcomes of any particular case of post-stroke paralysis.
Fortunately, there is substantial clinical evidence that shows a positive correlation between the intensity and consistency of rehabilitation and recovery after stroke. This is an important factor that influences the chances of recovery from stroke paralysis in particular.
The size and location of a stroke are two other important factors. Generally, when a stroke is severe or affects larger areas of the brain, the effects can be more substantial. As we mentioned before, each area of the brain has a distinct function. The area of the brain affected by the stroke and that area’s primary functions will determine the resulting secondary effects.
These effects can include changes in vision, speech, balance, and even behavioral changes in addition to post-stroke paralysis. To gain better insight into the chances of recovery from stroke paralysis, let’s take a look at the rehabilitation process more closely.
How the Brain and Body Recover After Stroke Paralysis
As we reviewed previously, paralysis after stroke is the result of disrupted communication between the brain and muscles. When the brain cannot send the correct signals to your affected muscles, they can become difficult to move or, in cases of hemiplegia, paralyzed.
Between 70-85% of survivors experience hemiplegia following their first stroke. While this is a staggering statistic, functional recovery is possible for survivors affected by hemiplegia through dedicated rehabilitation.
This is because the brain is capable of rewiring itself and bouncing back from injury. While many stroke survivors might not achieve a full recovery, functional gains are possible with the right approach and circumstances. This process revolves around neuroplasticity after stroke.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s innate ability to rewire itself and learn new skills. Through this process, functions that were lost due to stroke can be rewired to healthier, undamaged areas of the brain. This rewiring occurs based on experiences and the repetitive practice of exercises and functional tasks.
For example, no one is born knowing how to ride a bike. It’s the practice and experience that allows us to acquire this skill. Riding a bike becomes easier by attempting to ride a bike over and over.
The same concept applies to stroke rehabilitation, including recovery from post-stroke paralysis. Before we discuss these specific treatments for stroke paralysis, let’s examine why consistent rehabilitation is so important.
Studies Show Long-Term Rehabilitation Is Key to Recovery
One recent study found that nearly 25% of survivors affected by severe stroke and hemiplegia were able to return to independent living. Additionally, many others were able to improve their function and performance of activities of daily living. This greater recovery was found to be correlated with more intensive rehabilitation interventions.
During rehabilitation, the fastest recovery is generally seen during the first 3-6 months after stroke. This is when neuroplasticity is at its strongest and the brain is working to heal and rewire neural connections that were lost due to stroke. This boosted neuroplasticity is primarily responsible for what is called spontaneous recovery, referring to the rapid gains in function seen early in the recovery process.
Many survivors undergo inpatient rehab during this time, which requires 3 hours of therapy per day. This intensive rehabilitation helps survivors capitalize on boosted neuroplasticity and spontaneous recovery to see fast improvements in physical function. However, it is vital that stroke survivors continue rehabilitation at home after inpatient rehabilitation is over. Without constant participation in therapy, progress can plateau or even regress after stroke.
For instance, another study followed stroke patients 5 years post-stroke and found that “the level of functional and motor performance at 5 years post-stroke was equivalent to the level measured at 2 months.” Researchers credit the intensity of inpatient rehabilitation for the initial gains during the first 2 months. To keep recovery going, there must be consistent therapy at home after inpatient rehab is over.
Another study analyzed the impact of long-term rehabilitation by gathering 51 stroke patients who could not walk 3 months post-stroke. After two years of long-term rehabilitation, 74% of participants regained their ability to walk without assistance. This shows that when rehabilitation is pursued long-term, the prognosis becomes more optimistic.
Methods for Rehabilitation After Post Stroke Paralysis
With all forms of rehabilitation after stroke, it’s important to experiment with different modalities until you find what is effective for you. Work closely with your therapy team to create a rehab program that helps you reach your own unique goals. Once you find something that works, try your best to see it through daily. It cannot be stressed enough: long-term rehabilitation is key to recovery.
When performing your exercises, keep in mind that high repetition (sometimes called massed practice) is necessary to promote the rewiring of neural connections. In order to make lasting changes, dedicate yourself to performing high repetitions of these exercises and skills. To help you get started, let’s review some different stroke paralysis treatments to maximize your chances of recovery:
- Passive range-of-motion exercises. Ask a caregiver or therapist to move your affected limbs through their pain-free range of motion daily. Although your muscles aren’t actively firing, passive movement helps stimulate the brain and activate neuroplasticity.
- Self-range-of-motion exercises. To encourage recovery, try to practice passive rehabilitation exercises yourself by assisting your paralyzed side with your unaffected side. Pay attention to each movement, as neuroplasticity occurs through passive exercise, specifically when attention is paid to the movement. Self-range can also help avoid additional complications such as contractures after stroke.
- Mental practice. Visualization is another way to spark neuroplasticity. Before each exercise session, spend some time visualizing yourself doing each movement on your own. Mental practice is clinically proven to help spark neuroplasticity – and when it’s combined with physical practice, it leads to even better results.
- Electrical stimulation. This works by sending electrical impulses to the affected muscles, which helps them contract and potentially move if the contraction is strong enough. Attention should be paid to the movement to encourage neuroplasticity. Work with a therapist to learn how electrical stimulation works and get started.
- Mirror therapy. This rehabilitation method is great for stroke survivors who are affected by hand paralysis. Mirror therapy works by using a mirror to “trick” the brain into thinking that you’re moving your paralyzed hand when it’s actually your non-affected hand that’s doing the work.
- FitMi home therapy. This at-home rehab device customizes an exercise regimen based on your level of ability. Many users see significant results, including those recovering from post-stroke paralysis. The story up next shares more insight on this.
It’s important to work closely with your caregivers and medical team to establish your rehabilitation regimen. As you notice yourself progressing, continue to challenge yourself daily. If you start to see the return of muscle activity, try to engage as much muscle contraction as possible with more active exercises.
To help yourself stay consistent, try creating a daily schedule or finding an accountability partner. Once established, do your best to continue with your exercises daily at home to maximize your progress.
Stroke Paralysis Success Story
A stroke survivor named Ron once struggled with arm paralysis after stroke. Here is his recovery story as told by his wife:
“My husband suffered a stroke caused by a dissecting carotid artery in late May of this year. He lost 40% of his left hemisphere of his brain causing right side paralysis.
His speech was slightly impaired but thankfully Drs believe he is a rare left-handed person with speech located in right hemisphere of his brain! Ron was in ICU for a week, followed by a rehab hospital for five more weeks. He came home and has done outpatient therapy three days a week since.
About three weeks ago I ordered the FitMi and just this past week he moved his arm for the very first time!!! He and I both think the repetitive movement of the arm has given his brain the signal that it’s there and ready to move!!!
He will continue with both the FitMi and his other therapies for as long as it takes to fully recover!!!“
Ron’s story illustrates how the brain responds to experience. His affected arm regained small amounts of movement by passively practicing arm exercises with FitMi home therapy regularly. FitMi is an ideal recovery system for stroke patients pursuing rehab at home because it adjusts to your ability level. Even survivors struggling with paralysis can use FitMi to exercise passively, just like Ron.
Not everyone is guaranteed to recover like Ron, but we hope his story may inspire you to explore your potential. You’ll never know what your chances of recovery are until you try.
Increasing Chances of Recovery from Stroke Paralysis
A majority of survivors experience hemiplegia or other varying levels of paralysis after stroke. While this secondary effect can have a major impact on function and independence, recovery is possible through dedicated rehabilitation. This recovery is thanks to neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire neural pathways responsible for movement.
With help from your therapy team, experiment with different rehabilitation techniques to find what works for you. Then, stay consistent with high repetitions of your therapy exercises to maximize your chances of recovery from stroke paralysis. As you continue to pursue rehabilitation, you may find that you can progress your exercises and restore muscle activity in your affected limbs.
Find ways to stay accountable and feel free to customize your recovery plan to include activities that you enjoy. We hope this helps you feel inspired to continue pursuing your goals to maximize your chances of recovery from post-stroke paralysis.