Stroke paralysis treatments can help patients improve their chances of regaining mobility in the affected limbs.
Patients are encouraged to try different treatment methods because everyone responds differently. After all, every stroke is different, and every recovery will be different.
To help you take charge of your recovery, we have listed the best treatments for stroke paralysis below. Consult with your therapists and experiment with the methods that resonate with you.
Before discussing specific treatments however, it is important to understand the causes of stroke paralysis.
Causes and Symptoms of Stroke Paralysis
Stroke paralysis, also known as hemiplegia, usually occurs on the side of the body opposite from the side of the brain damaged by stroke. For example, if a stroke occurred in the brain’s left hemisphere, you may experience paralysis on the right side of your body.
This occurs because each side of the brain controls movement on the other side of the body. Certain parts of the brain send a complex array of signals to the muscles in the body, enabling you to move them on command.
However, when a severe stroke damages these areas of the brain, those signals become interrupted. As a result, the muscles are not able to respond to the brain’s directions, and paralysis can set in.
This lack of communication does not only cause paralysis though. Some common symptoms that often accompany stroke paralysis include:
- Spasticity: stiff, tight muscles
- Contractures: soft tissue shortening caused by extremely stiff muscles, which can impede movement across a joint
- Foot drop: inability to lift the toes up towards the shin
- Dysphagia: difficulty swallowing
Fortunately, it is possible to treat these symptoms after stroke. This can help many stroke patients recover from paralysis and regain at least some mobility on the affected side.
Recovering from Post-Stroke Paralysis
The most effective way to treat stroke paralysis is to activate neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity refers to the mechanism your brain uses to reorganize nerve cells and form new neural pathways.
These new neural pathways then allow healthy, undamaged portions of the brain to take over control from damaged areas. Therefore, by engaging neuroplasticity, you’ll be able to create neural pathways between your brain and muscle and recover from paralysis.
You can activate neuroplasticity through repetition, or “massed practice.” The more you practice an activity, the more it reinforces new neural pathways. And the more you strengthen those pathways, the stronger the connection between your brain and muscles will become.
When a stroke patient suffers from paralysis, they cannot move certain parts of the body on their own in order to exercise them. Fortunately, there are other ways to activate neuroplasticity to compensate for lack of movement, which we will discuss in the sections below.
Effective Stroke Paralysis Treatments
Stroke paralysis treatment can take a variety of forms. What works for one person might not work for another. Therefore, it’s important to experiment with different treatments for post-stroke paralysis to find the one that meets your unique needs.
These treatments are not guaranteed to cure paralysis, but they can help increase your chances of recovery. Check out our stroke recovery stories for encouraging evidence that these methods can work.
With that, here are the best stroke paralysis treatments available:
1. Passive Exercises
Perhaps the most scientifically-verified way to regain mobility after stroke paralysis is to practice passive exercises.
With passive exercises, you do not move your muscles on your own. Rather, you will enlist the help of a therapist or caregiver. Even though you are not making the movements yourself, you will still stimulate your brain and activate neuroplasticity.
These exercises may also help minimize spasticity and reduce the chance of getting contractures.
As you move through passive exercises, focus intently on the movement (watch the movement with your eyes and think about the movement in your mind). Eventually, the connection between your brain and muscles will improve, and you might regain a small amount of your movement.
If you think this is just wishful thinking, we disagree. Check out the recovery story of a stroke survivor who moved his arm for the first time ever after just 3 weeks of passive exercises.
2. Mental Practice
The advantage of mental practice is that it’s accessible for paralyzed individuals.
Mental practice involves visualizing yourself performing a movement that you want to perform. The practice is all in your head and requires no actual movement.
Although you aren’t doing the movements in reality, the mental practice still helps activate neuroplasticity and rewire the brain.
Then, when you couple mental practice with physical therapy (i.e. paralysis exercises), you can see incredible benefits.
In fact, studies show that combining mental practice with physical practice helps improve mobility in stroke patients.
3. Electrical Stimulation
Another stroke paralysis treatment with plenty of research behind it is electrical stimulation. When gentle electric currents are applied to the affected muscles, it helps the muscles contract and initiates movement.
Once again, although you aren’t doing it yourself, it still helps stimulate the brain and activate neuroplasticity.
And when you combine electrical stimulation with stroke exercises, it’s even more effective.
As you can see, many of these treatments should be combined for the best results. Ask your therapists if electrical stimulation would benefit you, and be sure to have them guide you before trying this on your own at home.
Acupuncture gets mixed results, but it’s definitely an option to consider. This treatment involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points and meridians on the body.
When electrical stimulation is applied to the needles (“electroacupuncture”) it provides a host of stimulation for your brain and body to process.
As you can imagine, combining electroacupuncture with physiotherapy or an effective home exercise program can seriously pack a punch.
It’s all about waking your brain up with stimulation, which lets it know that your body is there and ready to get moving.
5. Mirror Therapy
Finally, tabletop mirror therapy is a great way to recover from hand paralysis after stroke.
It involves placing a mirror over your affected hand and doing hand therapy exercises with your non-affected hand.
This “tricks” your brain into thinking that you’re moving your affected hand and helps rewire the brain.
We have also heard a unique hand paralysis story where a woman combined mirror therapy with passive exercise to help her husband regain movement in his paralyzed hand after stroke.
It just goes to show that there’s hope when you get creative and try different approaches.
The Search for Effective Stroke Paralysis Treatments
Overall, there’s a pattern to these top stroke paralysis treatments: they all stimulate the brain and encourage neuroplasticity.
Stimulation is important because, when post-stroke paralysis is involved, the brain has lost communication with the affected muscles. But by stimulating your brain and body with these various treatments, you may recover movement after post-stroke paralysis.
It all depends upon the size and location of your stroke and, more importantly, your work ethic.
Whatever you decide, do not let the plateau after stroke stop you. Recovery only stops when you stop, so keep going!