Mental practice is clinically proven to boost mobility after stroke.
And it even provides hope for recovery from post-stroke paralysis.
This is a bold statement to make, but we’re backing it up with hard science.
If you’ve never heard of mental practice before, get ready for some amazing news.
How Does Mental Practice Benefit Stroke Recovery?
Mental practice involves visualizing yourself doing something — ideally something that you want to get better at.
This visualization can help with stroke recovery because it activates neuroplasticity, the mechanism the brain uses to rewire itself and recover lost functions after stroke.
Neuroplasticity is activated through repetition. This is why your therapists want you to repeat rehab exercises over and over and over.
The more you repeat something (whether it’s a thought or action), the more your brain rewires itself to get better at that thing.
For example, repetitive leg exercises after stroke will help improve leg function. Similarly, repetitive visualization of leg exercises may also help improve leg function.
This is where mental practice comes into play.
Mental Practice May Help Post-Stroke Paralysis
When you mentally practice something, you activate neuroplasticity the same way that physical practice does.
Studies report increased blood flow, electromyographic activity, and resulting changes in organization of the motor cortex in stroke patients after mental practice.
Furthermore, more studies have shown that combining mental practice with physical practice helps improve mobility more than just physical practice alone.
This provides hope for all stroke patients – whether you have some movement or struggle with post-stroke paralysis.
Because even if you can’t do stroke recovery exercises at all, you can still visualize yourself doing them, which starts the rewiring process.
How to Use Mental Practice for Recovery
Wherever you are in your stroke recovery process, try to add mental practice to your daily regimen.
Ideally, do your mental practice right before and during your daily therapy for the best results. For example, start with visualizing the movement you want to perform. Then, if you have some movement in the affected side, perform the physical exercise to the degree possible while visualizing yourself completing the rest of the range of motion (even if you can’t really move the limb that far).
If you struggle with paralysis and cannot exercise on your own, you’ll need to start with smaller steps.
First, choose one movement that you want to get better at, like bending your elbows. Then spend time every day visualizing yourself doing this movement.
Afterwards, use your non-affected side to assist your affected arm through the elbow movements. This passive paralysis exercise will help stimulate the brain and “wake up” your arm.
Continue to combine mental practice with passive exercise every day. Results will likely come slowly, but hopefully daily practice will help bring movement into your affected side.
While the chances of recovery from stroke paralysis vary greatly from patient to patient, you’ll never know what’s possible unless you try.
Start Your Practice Today
As you can see, mental practice can have a massive impact on your recovery.
It helps activate neuroplasticity and rewire your brain faster than just physical practice alone.
While there’s no guarantee that it can help you recover from paralysis, it provides a hopeful reason to try!