The road to recovery looks different for all stroke survivors. To help you navigate this complex time, you’re about to learn some signs of recovery from stroke.
Recovery will unfold differently for everyone, and we hope this list helps you navigate your unique journey.
Defining Recovery from Stroke
Before we get started, let’s quickly define the goal of stroke rehabilitation.
When a stroke occurs, the blood supply in the brain becomes compromised, resulting in damage to some of the brain tissue.
This damage creates secondary effects like impaired mobility, speech difficulties, or other complications. The goal of stroke rehabilitation is to improve these secondary effects to the best of your ability.
A large part of recovery often involves multidisciplinary therapy. This may include physical therapy to help restore movement, speech therapy to help with language, dysphagia, and cognitive deficits, and occupational therapy to increase participation in daily activities.
The road to recovery is often long because most patients are working on more than one problem.
While rehabilitation is underway, it’s important to keep track of progress in a journal. It can help you notice and celebrate the signs of recovery from stroke.
Signs of Recovery from Stroke
As you progress on the road to recovery, there are a few patterns that signify progress.
Here are some of the most common patterns and signs of recovery from stroke:
1. Progress occurring fastest within the first 3 months
While everyone recovers from stroke at a different pace, there’s a well-known phenomenon around the stroke recovery plateau.
Most stroke survivors experience the fastest gains during the first 3 months of recovery. After that, progress starts to slow down (or “plateau”).
Rest assured that as long as the patient continues rehabilitation, progress will generally continue – just at a slower pace.
Almost everyone goes through this. When you (or your loved one) reach a plateau, don’t give up hope. Use it as a sign to buckle down on rehabilitation and keep going.
2. Independence increasing with the activities of daily living
After a stroke, the survivor may become dependent upon others to perform self-care tasks. These tasks are often referred to as the activities of daily living, like eating or bathing.
When a stroke survivor becomes more independent with the activities of daily living, it’s considered a good sign of recovery after stroke.
Most occupational therapists make independence with daily living activities the main goal of stroke rehabilitation. When a patient starts to require less assistance, that’s a great sign.
3. Early ability to cross legs is linked to better recovery
The ability to cross your legs within 15 days after a stroke was found to be a good sign of recovery.
Crossing the legs could mark the first noticeable return of movement in the limbs, which is often a milestone in recovery.
This is not a formal method for assessing outcomes after stroke. However, it’s simple enough that family members can see if their loved one passes this “test.”
For a formal stroke recovery prognosis, medical professionals will often use the NIH Stroke Scale.
Also, this does not mean you will have a poor recovery if you cannot cross your legs after a stroke. It just means there may be more work to be done.
4. Sleepiness or tiredness could be a sign of recovery
Excessive sleepiness after stroke is common. After the brain sustains trauma, it takes a lot of time and energy for it to heal.
Sleeping gives the brain time to recover and facilitates neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to make and strengthen connections through brain rewiring.
As the brain is recovering after stroke, the survivor may get physically or mentally tired easily. This could be a good sign of recovery. It could mean that the brain is working hard and needs rest to recuperate.
Be sure to listen to your body and sleep when your body needs sleep. If your body is asking for it – you probably need it.
Beware that if excessive sleepiness is not coupled with an overarching pattern of progress, then it could be a sign that something is wrong.
In either case, it’s best to keep a detailed log of what’s happening and consult your doctor or therapist.
5. Downsized compensatory techniques signify recovery
It’s a good sign of recovery from stroke when a survivor transitions from using a compensatory technique to doing something just like they did before injury.
Compensatory techniques include aids or “shortcuts” that allow a stroke survivor to accomplish tasks in a different way.
For example, using a walker or a cane to get around is a compensatory technique. Cooking with one hand is also a compensatory technique, because normally we use two hands.
That’s why it’s important to stay curious about whether or not you need compensatory techniques.
There may come a day where you can safely cook with two hands, but you might miss the opportunity unless you remain vigilant about recovery.
Also, the gradual “weaning off” from compensatory techniques is a good sign. For example, going from a walker to a quad cane deserves celebrating.
6. Muscle twitching could be a sign of recovery from stroke
Another sign of recovery could involve muscle twitching after stroke. It could signify that spasticity improving.
Spasticity is a post-stroke condition that involves stiff, tight muscles. It occurs when the brain cannot properly communicate with the affected muscles due to the neurological damage from stroke.
When spasticity improves (as outlined in the Brunnstrom stages of stroke recovery), muscles may start to twitch. In this case, it could be a good sign of recovery from stroke.
However, it’s important to talk to your therapist if/when this happens. Sometimes muscle twitches could actually be a sign of other post-stroke complications like tremors.
It’s important to talk to your therapist when new medical conditions occur – even if you think it’s a good sign of recovery – just to make sure.
7. The stages of grief could be a good sign
Finally, let’s discuss the emotional component of stroke recovery.
A stroke is a life changing event that can lead to devastating losses (like the loss of independence). This can push some survivors into grief.
There are 5 stages of grief that often occur, and two of these stages include anger and depression.
Negative emotions are often viewed as a bad thing. But when it comes to stroke recovery, the stages of grief often need to be experienced – at least for some time. The only way out is through.
In this way, emotions like anger and depression can be viewed as a sign of recovery from stroke.
Because when stroke survivors experience these emotions, it could mean they are moving through the stages of grief; and this also means they are one step closer to the final stage: acceptance.
However, it’s important to take the right steps to ensure that you are supported and do not get stuck in anger or depression. It often helps to join a stroke support group or enlist the help of a psychotherapist.
Tips to Boost Recovery After Stroke
Hopefully these signs of recovery from stroke help you identify and celebrate milestones in recovery.
To help you keep improving, here are some tips to promote recovery from stroke:
- Keep regular therapy appointments. Therapists are highly skilled in their ability to help you overcome the secondary effects of a stroke. By working with a professional at least once a week, you can make sure you’re getting the expert help you need.
- Exercise daily at home. Between these outpatient therapy sessions, you should also do rehab at home. Daily exercise is one of the best ways to improve movement after stroke, and one of the best ways to help your brain rewire itself. If you need help staying motivated, high-tech rehab equipment like Flint Rehab’s FitMi is designed to help.
- Adjust your goals as you progress. As you hit your stroke recovery goals, make new ones to keep yourself challenged. Don’t set your goals too high otherwise you may burn out. But if you set them too low, you won’t maximize your chances of a full recovery from stroke.
- Keep a journal of your recovery. Write down any and all improvements in a log somewhere – ideally a journal just for your recovery. Every inch deserves celebrating, and your journal can help you see how far you’ve come.
Overall, the road to recovery looks different for everyone. It’s important to do everything you can to keep recovering, and don’t pay attention to what everyone else is doing.
If you are able to cross your legs, that’s typically a good sign of recovery. But not all signs of recovery are positive. Sometimes, excessive sleepiness and negative emotion are actually good signs of recovery, too.
Because some of these signs could also signify a medical problem, it’s important to communicate everything with your therapist and medical team. They can make sure you’re on the right track.