No products in the cart.

Mental Practice for Stroke Patients: How to Use Visualization to Boost Your Recovery

survivor engaging in mental practice for stroke recovery

Mental practice, also called motor imagery, involves visualizing a movement or a feeling associated with that movement. During stroke rehabilitation, mental practice is an ideal recovery treatment for improving mobility, especially for individuals who struggle with post-stroke paralysis or limited mobility.

Even if a survivor can’t move their affected muscles, they can still visualize a movement or mentally practice a rehab exercise before physically performing it. This stimulates the brain and activates neuroplasticity, the brain’s natural ability to heal itself. 

Additionally, mental practice is a great rehabilitation method to utilize because it is cost-effective (free), non-invasive, and evidence-based. Another promising feature of mental practice is that it’s accessible to everyone during all stages of recovery. 

This article will discuss the additional benefits of mental practice during stroke rehabilitation and some effective stroke visualization techniques to utilize.

How Does Mental Practice for Stroke Patients Work?

Mental practice is a powerful method that can help individuals improve motor function after a stroke. Before diving into how it works, it first helps to understand how a stroke can affect movement.

A stroke occurs when an artery in the brain is compromised, depriving certain areas of oxygen-rich blood. Until the stroke is treated, neural pathways or connections in that area sustain damage.

When areas of the brain that contribute to movement, such as the motor cortex, are affected, the brain can no longer communicate properly with the affected muscles. This results in motor difficulties after stroke, such as hemiplegia (weakness on one half of the body) or hemiparesis (paralysis on one half of the body).

Fortunately, the brain has the ability to rewire itself and restore neural connections through neuroplasticity. To improve communication between the brain and muscles after a stroke, neuroplasticity must be activated through massed practice of rehab exercises.

Practicing an exercise consistently helps the brain reinforce the importance of that movement and strengthen its neural connections. For example, the more you practice moving your arm, the more the brain will strengthen that movement pattern, eventually making it easier to move your arm. For this reason, high repetition of physical rehab exercise is important to stimulate neuroplasticity.

Furthermore, mental practice can also activate neuroplasticity and help restore motor skills after stroke. Studies have shown that mentally practicing exercises sparks changes in the areas of the brain correlated to movement such as the motor and premotor areas.

Therefore, achieving high repetition of both physical and mental rehab exercises is essential to improve mobility after a stroke, especially for individuals with paralysis. The more a movement is practiced, the stronger the neural pathways will be for that movement.

Mental Practice for Stroke Patients with Paralysis

Even stroke patients with paralysis can spark neuroplasticity with mental practice by simply visualizing the movement. For example, if you struggle with paralysis in your legs you can stimulate the brain by visualizing yourself moving your affected legs or doing more specific movements like walking across a lawn.

This can help activate neuroplasticity, strengthen the neural connections for the movement you visualize, and eventually restore communication between the brain and your affected muscles. When mental practice is combined with regular therapy, it can help improve upper and lower limb function and increase the overall performance of the activities of daily living after stroke

Thus, mental practice provides hope to individuals with post-stroke paralysis and other effects during all stages of recovery.

Mental Practice Provides Hope for Stroke Patients

Whether your stroke was many months or years ago, there is hope for recovery through neuroplasticity. Consistent practice of rehab exercise can spark new changes in your brain and activate neuroplasticity at any age. However, it takes more practice to produce the same changes in the brain as you get older.

Fortunately, studies have shown that mental practice can help individuals reach their recovery goals long after their stroke. One study, in particular, focused on chronic stroke survivors who were between 6 months to 3.6 years post-injury and found that mental practice combined with physical practice helped significantly improve arm function.

Therefore, it’s important to exercise your affected muscles as much as possible throughout your recovery process with both physical and mental practice.

Stroke Recovery Visualization Techniques

While there are many ways to practice motor imagery, every individual is encouraged to experiment with different techniques to find something that is fun and effective for them. Studies show the more you enjoy rehab exercises, the more likely you are to stay consistent and motivated during your recovery process.

Therefore, it’s important to find stroke visualization exercises that you enjoy and can help you reach your goals. Your therapist may also be able to provide you with stroke visualization exercises that specifically target your affected muscles.

To help you get started, here are some mental practice techniques you can try:

  • Short & long visualizations: The more time you spend visualizing your recovery, the more neuroplasticity is stimulated, and the higher the chances of seeing promising results. Try to spend about 3-5 minutes mentally practicing a task before physically practicing it. For an added challenge, try to practice longer for about 20 minutes or more.
  • Rehab exercises & activities of daily living: If you’re working on specific exercises during your therapy sessions (or with at-home therapy devices like FitMi), you can mentally practice those exercises before physically performing them. For instance, if you’re practicing activities of daily living like eating, you can mentally practice relevant tasks such as using a fork or spoon.
  • Improvised & recorded: You can improvise mental practice by simply closing your eyes and working on the task that draws your attention that day. Because the brain needs consistency and repetition to rewire itself, it’s important to stick to the same exercises or activities for at least a week. For even more stimulation, you can make yourself an audio recording where you guide yourself through a visualization exercise.
  • Internal & external: You can practice internal motor imagery by visualizing yourself from the first-person point of view and looking at your surroundings. Or you can practice it externally from the third-person point of view, looking outward-in. Both internal and external practice help stimulate the brain and activate neuroplasticity.
  • Simple & complex: The more senses you engage in your visualization, the more powerful it will be. Try to think about all the things you feel, smell, and hear as you mentally practice a task. For example, if you’re visualizing yourself getting dressed, try to focus on the texture of the fabric and how the clothes may feel.

Because mental practice is most beneficial when combined with physical rehab exercises, it’s important to establish a home therapy program. This can help you stay motivated to achieve massed practice regularly and help you reach your recovery goals more swiftly. 

Using Mental Practice to Boost Your Stroke Recovery

Mental practice is an effective, evidence-based therapy that can help survivors during all stages of recovery. Visualizing stroke recovery exercises help stimulate neuroplasticity, which is necessary to improve mobility after stroke, even for survivors with paralysis.

Before you begin your stroke recovery exercises, try setting aside time to visualize some of the muscles that you want to improve such as your arms or legs. Utilizing motor imagery beforehand can provide extra stimulation to the brain and help boost your results.

We hope this article helped you understand how mental practice for stroke patients is beneficial and encouraged you to visualize your recovery positively.

Keep It Going: Download Our Stroke Recovery Ebook for Free

stroke recovery tips ebooks with fanned pages (1)

Get our free stroke recovery ebook by signing up below! It contains 15 tips every stroke survivor and caregiver must know. You’ll also receive our weekly Monday newsletter that contains 5 articles on stroke recovery. We will never sell your email address, and we never spam. That we promise.

Discover Award-Winning Neurorehab Tools

ebook with the title "full body exercises for stroke patients"

Do you have these 25 pages of rehab exercises?

Get a free copy of our ebook Full Body Exercises for Stroke Patients. Click here to get instant access.

You're on a Roll: Read More Popular Recovery Articles

You’re Really on a Roll! See how Jerry is regaining movement with FitMi home therapy

My husband is getting better and better!

“My name is Monica Davis but the person who is using the FitMi is my husband, Jerry. I first came across FitMi on Facebook. I pondered it for nearly a year. In that time, he had PT, OT and Speech therapy, as well as vision therapy.

I got a little more serious about ordering the FitMi when that all ended 7 months after his stroke. I wish I hadn’t waited to order it. He enjoys it and it is quite a workout!

He loves it when he levels up and gets WOO HOOs! It is a wonderful product! His stroke has affected his left side. Quick medical attention, therapy and FitMi have helped him tremendously!”

Monica & Jerry’s FitMi review

What are these “WOO HOOs” about?

FitMi is like your own personal therapist encouraging you to accomplish the high repetition of exercise needed to improve.

When you beat your high score or unlock a new exercise, FitMi provides a little “woo hoo!” as auditory feedback. It’s oddly satisfying and helps motivate you to keep up the great work.

In Jerry’s photo below, you can see him with the FitMi pucks below his feet for one of the leg exercises:

FitMi is beloved by survivors and used in America’s top rehab clinics

Many therapists recommend using FitMi at home between outpatient therapy visits and they are amazed by how much faster patients improve when using it.

It’s no surprise why over 14,000 OTs voted for FitMi as “Best of Show” at the annual AOTA conference; and why the #1 rehabilitation hospital in America, Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, uses FitMi with their patients.

This award-winning home therapy device is the perfect way to continue recovery from home. Read more stories and reviews by clicking the button below: