Are your post stroke symptoms getting worse? Sometimes this is normal, and other times it’s not — so how can you tell if you’re on the right track? You’re about to find out!
This post will illustrate what a normal regression looks like and how you can pull yourself out of a slump.
Normal vs. Abnormal Worsening After Stroke
It’s important to acknowledge that the stroke recovery process does not move in a straight line.
Taking two steps forward and one step back is normal.
In fact, taking two steps forward and four steps back sometimes is also normal.
A good rule of thumb to determine if your regression is normal or not is to zoom out and look at the big picture. Is there an overall pattern of progress?
Drawing by Demitri Martin
Your backward steps should be overcome by your forward steps in the long-run.
However, if you wake up one morning and the secondary effects of your stroke are dramatically worse than the previous night, then it’s time to seek immediate medical attention.
Causes for Post Stroke Symptoms Getting Worse
If your post stroke symptoms have been getting worse, then it’s time to do some investigating to get to the bottom of it.
Here are 3 causes of regression after stroke:
1. Doing things differently
Have you started doing anything dramatically different lately? For example, have you started walking a lot whereas you were sedentary before? Or conversely have you been sitting more frequently when you were previously more active?
Sometimes big changes can affect your body in a big way – and not necessarily for the better.
2. Taking new medication
Sometimes new medication can cause negative side effects. For example, some stroke survivors report regression after taking anti-depressants, and they also report the regression reversing itself once they stop taking it.
Don’t tinker with your medication without consulting a doctor, though! Instead, bring up your worsening post stroke symptoms to your doctor and see if you have other options.
3. Overworking yourself
Sometimes post-stroke fatigue has a delayed onset. If you ‘go hard’ and do a bunch of things all in one day, then you could experience a regression during the following day or days.
Still can’t figure out what’s causing your regression?
If you can’t identify the cause of your regression, then try talking with your physiatrist, neurologist, or therapist. (S)he might be able to help identify what’s going wrong.
Post-stroke regression is a mysterious phenomenon, though, and doctors are often unable to pinpoint exactly what’s causing the regression.
If that happens to you, don’t freak out. There are plenty of actions that you can take to likely start progressing on the road to recovery again.
How to Make Post Stroke Symptoms Better, Not Worse
If you think you’re going through the normal ebb and flow of recovery (i.e. a small regression), here are 4 ways to work through it and get your results flowing again.
Go slow and steady.
Stroke recovery is not a race. Although a speedy recovery is what everyone wants, it’s easy to burn yourself out by trying to do too many things at once.
During stroke recovery, your brain is rapidly trying to heal itself, which uses up a lot of your mental juice. When you push yourself hard, you zap what’s remaining of your mental juice and you’re left running on fumes.
To avoid regression, it’s best to aim for the slow and steady pace instead of rushing and eventually suffering from burnout.
Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep is very important during stroke recovery. It gives your brain a chance to rest and recharge, and it facilitates neuroplasticity, or brain rewiring.
If you don’t sleep when your body wants and needs to, then you will have a slower recovery. Your brain won’t have a chance to do the healing it needs, and you’ll self-sabotage. So let yourself sleep!
Also, it’s important to know that the desire for lots of sleep after stroke is not a sign of regression. The desire for sleep is perfectly normal and healthy in a stroke survivor.
Be consistent with your regimen.
Consistency is key when it comes to stroke recovery. If you work on your rehabilitation just a little bit each day, you will see big results over the long-run. If you become inconsistent, however, you put yourself at risk of backsliding and regression. Not only may skipping your home exercises result in regression, but overdoing them may also undo your progress.
Your brain is rapidly trying to heal itself through the phenomenon of neuroplasticity, which is how your brain rewires itself and forms new neural connections.
Consistent stimulation is the best way to rewire your brain. Without consistency, the new connections in your brain can start to weaken and you might lose all of your hard work.
Practice with high repetition.
Aside from consistency, the best way to rewire your brain and heal after stroke is with high repetition.
When you repeat something, you activate neuroplasticity and strengthen the connections in your brain that control that task.
For example, the more you practice your hand therapy exercises, the stronger the connections in your brain become that control hand function. The more you practice, the better your hand function will become.
So if you find yourself regressing in a particular area of your recovery, start utilizing repetitive practice to get yourself back on track.
Stroke Recovery Can Get Better
Overall, it’s important to understand that stroke recovery naturally has an ebb and flow.
If you experience rapid, sudden worsening of stroke secondary effects, then it’s time to seek medical attention immediately.
But if changes are smaller, it could just be the natural process of recovery. Sometimes you’ll take two steps forward and one step backward.
As long as there’s an overall trend of progress, then small setbacks are nothing to worry about.