Right hemiplegia refers to paralysis of the right side of the body after injury to the brain or spinal cord. This can occur due to stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, and other neurological diagnoses. Fortunately, there are rehabilitation methods that can help you regain movement on the right side and increase independence with daily activities.
Hemiplegia can affect either side of the body, but this article will specifically focus on right-sided hemiplegia. To help you understand what right hemiplegia is and what to expect, this article will discuss the causes, common symptoms, recovery, and treatment methods for this condition. Feel free to use the following links to help you navigate this article:
Causes of Right Hemiplegia
Although right hemiplegia affects the muscles on the right side of the body, the underlying cause is damage to the nervous system, not the muscles themselves. Most commonly, right hemiplegia occurs when the parts of the brain that control movement, such as the motor cortex, become damaged.
Movement of the body takes place due to electrical signals traveling between the nervous system and the muscles. These signals are what initiate muscle contractions to help produce and coordinate movement. When these signals are interrupted, individuals experience weakness or, in the case of right hemiplegia, paralysis.
Common causes of right hemiplegia include neurological disorders such as:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Cerebral palsy
- Degenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis
- Brain infections
- Brain tumors
- Spinal cord injury
The brain is comprised of two hemispheres, or halves, and each hemisphere is responsible for movement on the opposite side of the body. This means the brain’s left hemisphere controls movement on the body’s right side, and vice versa. Therefore, two common causes of right hemiplegia are left hemisphere stroke and left hemisphere brain injury, as these injuries affect movement on the right side of the body.
Generally, weakness of the muscles on one side of the body is defined as hemiparesis whereas paralysis of the muscles on one side of the body is known as hemiplegia. However, when individuals with cerebral palsy experience motor impairments on one side of the body, it is referred to as spastic hemiplegia, even if they can still move their affected limbs to some degree.
Although hemiplegia is most commonly caused by damage to the brain, right hemiplegia can also occur after spinal cord injury. In contrast to the brain, each side of the spinal cord controls movement on the same side of the body. If the right side of the spinal cord is damaged (a rare condition known as Brown Sequard Syndrome) it can result in right hemiplegia.
Fortunately, the central nervous system has the ability to heal and rewire itself, which we will discuss later in this article. This phenomenon plays a central role in the outlook and rehabilitation process for right hemiplegia.
Right-Sided Hemiplegia Symptoms
In addition to the arms, legs, hands, and feet, the body’s trunk and postural muscles are also affected by right hemiplegia. Right hemiplegia can also involve the muscles of the face and throat, causing deficits in speech and facial expression as well as dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.
Due to widespread involvement, survivors with right hemiplegia commonly experience a decrease in independence. This is because the resulting weakness contributes to poor balance, decreased muscle function, lack of active movement and abnormal muscle tone. Consequently, right hemiplegia affects many daily activities including walking, self-care activities, and community participation.
Additionally, individuals affected by right hemiplegia frequently experience increased energy demands and higher levels of fatigue. When half of the body is paralyzed, unaffected regions of the body must work harder to execute daily tasks. Therefore, this also increases the energy requirements necessary to perform these once-simple tasks, leading to frustration.
When one side of the body is affected by right hemiplegia, survivors are often tempted to use only their unaffected side to improve efficiency. For example, individuals with right hemiplegia may find themselves performing tasks such as dressing, eating, and performing self-care with only their left hand, or may consistently stand up from a chair using only their left leg. However, it’s important for individuals to avoid learned non-use by purposefully involving their right limbs in daily tasks.
Learned non-use refers to a progressive loss of function on the affected side when these limbs are neglected over time. As individuals with right hemiplegia become increasingly dependent on their left side, their nervous system may forget how to use their affected side at all. There is hope for recovery of right hemiplegia after neurological injury, but this requires consistent practice using the right side to promote return of function.
Other Symptoms that May Accompany Right Hemiplegia
When right hemiplegia is caused by left hemisphere stroke or traumatic brain injury, individuals may experience additional secondary effects. For example, right hemiplegia following a left hemisphere stroke can be accompanied by symptoms such as:
- Aphasia: The left hemisphere is home to the brain’s main language centers, called Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. As a result, tissue damage in the left hemisphere often leads to difficulty producing or interpreting language. Right hemiplegia can also occur alongside other speech disorders such as apraxia of speech or dysarthria.
- Dysphagia: Characterized by difficulty swallowing, dysphagia is a serious side effect caused by weakness or decreased control of the muscles of the throat and face. If not addressed, this can lead to serious complications such as choking, aspiration pneumonia, and malnutrition.
- Cognitive impairments. The left hemisphere of the brain plays a vital role in memory and problem solving. Following tissue damage, survivors may note difficulty recalling previous events, following logical problem-solving steps, or learning new information or skills. This can be frustrating for individuals with right hemiplegia during the recovery process.
- Visual loss: Vision is a process that spans the brain, involving both hemispheres. As a result, a neurological injury that causes right hemiplegia may also result in visual deficits, including a condition called homonymous hemianopia. This specific type of visual field loss is characterized by a loss of vision in the right half of each eye when the brain’s left hemisphere is affected.
- Spasticity: Although right hemiplegia involves paralysis of one side of the body, misfiring of neural signals can cause muscles to contract involuntarily, or spasm. This can be a roadblock during rehabilitation as spasticity hinders gains in range of motion and strength. Additionally, the presence of spasticity can increase the chances of developing muscle contractures.
Every rehabilitation journey will be unique for individuals with right hemiplegia, but there is always hope of recovery through consistency and dedication to a rehabilitation plan. To help you better understand right hemiplegia rehabilitation, we will review the recovery outlook and treatment methods that can help maximize function and independence.
Right Hemiplegia Recovery Outlook
Most people are right-handed, which means that right hemiplegia can create more challenges with daily activities than left hemiplegia. While living with paralysis on the right side of your body can be challenging, many individuals are able to improve their mobility by harnessing the central nervous system’s ability to rewire itself, known as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity allows for functions affected by central nervous system damage to be rewired to unaffected regions. The neural pathways for these functions are strengthened through repetitive practice, or “massed practice.” This consistent and repetitive practice stimulates the central nervous system while reinforcing the importance and need of a specific function. Therefore, to improve and regain any skill (whether it be movement, memory, or problem-solving), consistent repetition is necessary.
The more you practice, the more the central nervous system adapts. Specifically, individuals with right hemiplegia should practice rehabilitation exercises that target the right side of the body. By stimulating the right side with movement, you can help the brain and/or spinal cord rewire itself and regain lost function.
This is not to say that the left side of the body should be ignored, as bilateral movement (movement that requires use of both sides of the body) is always beneficial. However, emphasizing right-sided exercise is key to regaining movement for individuals with right hemiplegia.
Right Hemiplegia Recovery Time
It can be challenging to determine how long it takes to recover movement after right hemiplegia. Since every neurological injury is different, everyone recovers at different speeds and each timeline will be unique. However, there are some patterns worth noting.
Following neurological injuries such as stroke or traumatic brain injury, the central nervous system experiences a temporary increase in neuroplasticity as the brain attempts to stabilize itself. This makes it easier for individuals to relearn and improve affected functions. It is also why the most recovery tends to occur within the first several months after their injury. In fact, research suggests the greatest gains in function occur in the first six months after stroke and the first three to six months after spinal cord injury.
However, that is not to say recovery after the first few months, or even the first year, is impossible. Neuroplasticity is an ongoing process that occurs throughout life. Therefore, as long as you stimulate undamaged regions of the central nervous system through repetitive, task-specific practice, there is potential to improve.
While there’s no guarantee that everyone will recover from right hemiplegia, there are many cases where patients beat the odds and regain more movement than expected. You’ll never know how close you can get to a full recovery unless you dedicate yourself to your rehabilitation plan and continue to have hope.
Treatment of Paralysis on the Right Side of the Body
Treatment for paralysis on the right side of the body should focus on promoting neuroplasticity through highly repetitive practice. By working with rehabilitation specialists like physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists, individuals with right hemiplegia can learn exercises and activities that target their affected side.
Physical therapists can help you improve range of motion, muscle strength, coordination, and balance, as well as provide techniques to help reduce spasticity. Additionally, your physical therapist will work with you to regain skills like walking and getting in and out of a chair independently.
Occupational therapists can teach you helpful ways to maximize your independence and compensate for limited movement on your right side. For example, they may recommend using adaptive therapy equipment or appropriate splints to help reduce spasticity-related complications such as curled fingers. They can also help you practice fine motor skills and self-care tasks.
Speech-language pathologists, also called speech therapists, are another valuable member of your therapy team. They can prescribe effective speech therapy exercises to help resolve aphasia, improve communication with your loved ones, and improve swallowing.
To begin rehabilitation for right hemiplegia, we recommend passive exercise. Passive exercise involves assisting your limbs through the movements and can be performed in the early stages of stroke recovery. You can either use your left side to assist your right side, or you can enlist the help of a therapist or caregiver. Although your muscles aren’t actively contracting to perform the motion, passive movement helps stimulate the brain and spark neuroplasticity.
You can boost your chances of recovery by combining passive exercises with other therapies. For instance, electrical stimulation and mental practice are both proven to help with right-sided hemiplegia recovery. Also, high-tech rehab tools like Flint Rehab’s FitMi help you achieve the high repetition of exercise you need to recover. Many people have recovered from right hemiplegia with the help of this rehab device. For example, here’s John’s story of how he overcame right-sided hemiplegia with FitMi:
Understanding Right Hemiplegia: Key Points
Right hemiplegia describes paralysis on the right side of the body due to tissue damage to the brain or spinal cord. This secondary effect can cause individuals to experience decreased independence due to muscle weakness, poor balance, and increased energy requirements for daily tasks. However, thanks to neuroplasticity (the central nervous system’s ability to rewire itself), there is hope for recovery from right hemiplegia.
Optimal recovery requires high repetition and dedication to the program provided by your therapy team in order to regain functional mobility. Treatment should involve passive and active rehabilitation exercises that target the right side of the body to promote neuroplasticity. Additionally, rehab technology like Flint Rehab’s FitMi can improve chances of recovery by motivating you to move and perform daily repetitions of therapeutic exercises.
We hope this article helped explain right hemiplegia, common symptoms, and treatments to promote rehabilitation. When you put in the work, there’s always hope for recovery.