There are many different ways to approach physical therapy for stroke patients at home. How do you know which methods are the best for you?
Every stroke is different, and every survivor will respond best to different at-home therapies. Therefore, experimentation is key.
You’re about to discover some of the best methods and tips to help you with physical therapy at home after stroke.
Best Therapy Methods for Stroke Patients at Home
After discharge from outpatient therapy, it’s essential for stroke patients to continue a strong recovery program at home. The brain needs constant stimulation in order to continue healing.
You’ll about to discover the top 5 stroke recovery treatment options you can do at home. These methods focus specifically on mobility. After that, you’ll learn more tips to help maximize recovery.
1. Daily Stroke Rehabilitation Exercises
While exercise focuses on strengthening your muscles, stroke recovery exercise activates your brain to deliver messages to the muscles for movement. Rehabilitation focuses on activating neuroplasticity, the mechanism the brain uses to rewire itself and learn new skills.
After a portion of the brain has been affected by stroke, neuroplasticity develops new pathways to healthy areas of the brain. By practicing rehab exercises at home on a consistent and daily schedule, you feed the brain the stimulation it needs to rewire itself and improve function.
Strengthening the muscles is also a goal during stroke rehabilitation, to help combat any muscle atrophy that has occurred from non-use.
2. Mirror Therapy for Hand Recovery
Mirror therapy is one method to activate the signals from the hand to the brain, especially for those with hand paralysis or extremely limited hand movement.
This method of therapy for stroke survivors involves using a tabletop mirror to cover the affected arm with the reflection of the functioning arm. Then, you perform tabletop hand therapy exercises while looking at the reflection.
Although you know that you’re only moving one hand, it tricks the brain into thinking that you’re moving both hands. This helps activate neuroplasticity and slowly improve mobility in the affected hand.
3. CIMT for Arm or Leg Paralysis
Constraint-induced movement therapy is a challenging form of physical therapy that’s helpful for stroke patients with hemiplegia or hemiparesis (weakness or paralysis on the affected side). It works by restricting movement of the un-affected side while forcing use of the affected side.
CIMT can be challenging. It is most often a rehabilitation program that is initiated in rehab and then continued at home.
You’ll get a 25-page PDF with exercises and pictures. Click here to download the PDF (link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading)
4. Mental Practice to Improve Paralysis
Mental practice involves mentally rehearsing something before you actually do it. Professional athletes are known to implement mental practice to improve their sport, and stroke survivors can also benefit.
Try mentally practicing your rehab exercises for 5 minutes before you actually practice them in real life. Studies have shown that visualizing yourself moving helps activate neuroplasticity the same way that physically moving does.
Mental practice is especially helpful for patients who struggle with paralysis and cannot move without assistance yet. It provides a way to help the brain rewire itself without requiring movement.
5. Home Rehabilitation Tools
Home therapy tools can help you stay motivated during stroke recovery at home, especially if you’ve grown tired of following along to written sheets of exercises. Ask your therapists if they recommend any home exercise equipment.
Many physical and occupational therapists highly recommend Flint Rehab’s FitMi home therapy for stroke survivors as a home exercise program. It motivates users to accomplish high repetition of standard rehab exercises, which helps promote recovery.
FitMi won awards from the American Occupational Therapy Association for “Best in Show.” Also, Bob & Brad (two physical therapists on YouTube with over 2 million subscribers) gave FitMi their stamp of approval.
See what these popular physical therapists said about FitMi in this video:
Tips to Boost Physical Therapy for Stroke Patients at Home
Now that you know what the best physical therapy treatments are, it’s time to focus on work ethic. Because knowing the best steps for physical therapy is much different than taking them.
Here are 10 tips to implement your best physical therapy regimen at home:
6. Boost Your Mindset with Kaizen
Kaizen is the Japanese practice of continuous improvement through small, consistent steps. Sound too simple to work? The simplicity is actually the hardest part.
Kaizen involves patience and persistence, two essential ingredients for physical therapy after stroke. You can’t achieve your results all at once. The brain can only do so much in a single day.
The best thing you can do to achieve results is take it one step at a time day after day. This slow yet steady pace is exactly what will lead to your highest recovery possible.
7. Stay Moving
Most physical therapists all have one main goal for stroke survivors at home: keep moving. All movement is beneficial during stroke recovery. Try your best to engage in therapeutic movement on a daily basis.
Because one determining factor of a successful recovery is how consistently patients pursue rehabilitation long-term. One study found that after a stroke, patients were at the same level of recovery 5 years post-stroke as they were just 2 months post-stroke. The study linked a lack of long-term rehab as the cause for stagnation.
This is why small, consistent steps taken long-term provide the best results.
8. Turn the Background Noise OFF to Turn Your Brain ON
When attention is divided between physical therapy and the radio playing in the background, you’re not reaping the full benefits of PT.
Create a quiet, distraction-free environment to maintain your concentration for exercise. Turn off the television and tell family members not to disturb you during this time.
Your brain is hard at work rewiring itself. Don’t let distraction get in the way.
9. Don’t Let the Plateau Stop You
Every stroke is different so everyone will recover at a different pace. However, there is a well-documented phenomenon called the stroke recovery plateau where results often slow down at the 3-month mark.
This is normal and to be expected. Don’t let it stop you from continuing with physical therapy at home. Although results may take longer to occur, recovery will not stop unless you stop.
When you stick with a consistent home therapy regimen, the brain will respond and healing will continue towards your recovery.
10. Don’t Let Paralysis Stop You, Either
Post-stroke paralysis is a chronic condition and recovery only happens when you put in the work. The brain needs stimulation in order to rewire itself and make the connections to the body for movement.
For patients recovering from post-stroke paralysis (hemiplegia) at home, try using proven treatments like mental practice and passive paralysis recovery exercises. Both methods help spark neuroplasticity by providing signals from the body to the brain.
Give each treatment the time and attention necessary for healing and recovery. Passive exercise helps spark neuroplasticity only when attention is paid to the movement. Similarly, mental practice only helps when it’s done consistently. Keep the philosophy of Kaizen in mind.
11. Treat the Root Cause of Spasticity
Stretching is great for spasticity, but accompanying your stretches with daily rehab exercise is even better.
Spasticity is the result of miscommunication between the brain and body. When the brain cannot send signals that tell the muscles when to move or relax, the muscles tighten up to protect themselves.
Stretching is helpful because it prevents contractures and learned nonuse. However, this does not address the root cause of the spasticity.
Rewiring the brain treats the root issue. Therefore, your daily at-home exercise helps improve mobility and reduce spasticity long-term.
12. Don’t Neglect Hand Rehabilitation
Hand function often takes longer to recover than arm or leg movement. As a result, many stroke survivors neglect hand therapy and instead find compensation strategies to use their non-affected hand for everyday tasks, like cooking one-handed.
However, when the affected hand is neglected, the loss of mobility only worsens. This phenomenon is called learned nonuse.
To improve hand function after stroke, patients must keep the hand active. Focus on using the affected hand during daily tasks even if the stronger hand assists with the movement. Most importantly, be sure to complete daily hand therapy exercises to help rewire the brain to improve chances for hand function.
13. Get More than 6 Hours of Sleep
Sleep plays a crucial role during stroke recovery, especially when it comes to physical therapy. Why? Because REM sleep has been shown to help people learn and remember how to perform physical tasks.
During REM sleep, the brain has an opportunity to replenish the neurotransmitters that organize neural networks for remembering, learning, and performance. Therefore, it’s important for stroke survivors to get ample rest.
REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep) usually occurs towards the end of the night, so it’s important to allow yourself to sleep longer than 6 hours each night. If you sleep more than 30 minutes at a time during the day, you will interrupt your night time deep sleep. When your mind and body are at rest, healing can occur.
If you have any sleep disorders that prevent you from sleeping longer than 6 hours, talk to your doctor to discuss your options.
Why At-Home Physical Therapy Matters
Ideally, patients should be as consistent as possible with at-home therapy. The brain needs constant reinforcement in order to lay new pathways and improve lost functions.
We hope you’re inspired to be consistent with your at-home therapy, and pursue it for the long-haul. You will see the best results that way.
If you can, work with your therapist to create your at-home therapy regimen. Your therapist understands your unique conditions and can help create motivating, meaningful goals with you. Best of luck on the road to recovery.