How long does it take to recover from stroke? To help answer this popular question, we created a stroke recovery timeline using clinical studies and other patterns generally accepted by therapists.
This timeline covers everything from the first 3 months to years after stroke. Let’s start at the beginning.
Stroke Recovery Timeline Part 1: The Early Stages
Every stroke is different, so every recovery will be different. The following stroke recovery timeline is an estimate of how events unfold.
The early stages are more predictable than the later stages. Here’s what often occurs during the stroke recovery process:
The Stroke Is Treated
A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when the supply of blood in the brain becomes compromised. When someone experiences a stroke, it’s important to seek fast, immediate medical attention. Time lost is brain lost.
Stroke Rehabilitation Begins ASAP
Once the stroke has been treated, rehabilitation begins on day one of the stroke recovery process. This often means starting rehab right from the hospital bed.
Rehabilitation starts quickly to take advantage of the brain’s heightened state of neuroplasticity.
You will see the fastest improvements immediately after injury because the brain is rapidly forming new neural connections to recover from the damage.
Discharge from the Hospital
Those who suffered minor strokes are often discharged within the first week.
Massive stroke survivors may take longer to get discharged as they require more intensive care.
If stroke side effects are severe and patients require a ventilator or feeding tube, they may be transferred to an acute care hospital.
Half of Patients Experience 50% Recovery
Half of patients experience the fastest recovery in the first two weeks, resulting in 50% recovery at this time, according to Journal of Neurology.
This rapid recovery during the first two weeks is why most therapists work with patients intensively during this time.
First 3 Months
The Fastest Recovery Has Occurred
After the first 3 months of stroke recovery, your improvements may slow down due to the plateau effect after stroke.
At this point, most inpatient rehab facilities will discharge you to continue recovery at home. The good news is that you can keep recovering with focused effort.
While recovery might not occur as quickly, it can continue with a good physical therapy regimen at home.
Stroke Recovery Timeline Part 2: Milestones during Rehab at Home
After the first 3 months, recovery starts to greatly vary from person to person. It’s impossible to create a stroke recovery timeline that applies to everyone.
However, there are still some patterns worth noting. If you’re wondering how long it takes to recover from stroke, it helps to pay attention to these patterns.
Here’s how the stroke recovery process may continue to unfold:
Outpatient Therapy Continues
After discharge from inpatient rehab, you will begin outpatient rehab, where you travel to and from the clinic for physical and occupational therapy.
During these visits, you will work alongside trained therapists to continue rehabilitating your stroke side effects.
At this point in your stroke recovery timeline, developing an effective stroke rehabilitation regimen at home is critical to your success.
Gait Improves in Most Stroke Patients
Your manner of walking (also known as your gait) is a major obstacle that some stroke survivors must overcome.
About 65-85% of stroke patients will learn to walk independently after 6 months of rehabilitation.
Those recovering from massive stroke may take longer, and we will get to that soon.
Speech and Cognitive Function Continue to Improve
The stroke recovery timeline after one year greatly varies from patient to patient.
Those who sustained minor strokes may be fully recovered after 1 year while massive stroke survivors may be in the middle of rehabilitation.
Individuals with aphasia may have fully recovered their speech at the 1-year mark, if speech therapy was aggressive.
Extremities Start to Improve (& Gait Improves for Massive Stroke Survivors)
At the 2 year mark, many patients have regained mobility on their affected side, except for the extremities (hands and feet).
Extremities are often the slowest to improve after stroke, but you can improve them with focused effort. Clinically proven technology like Flint Rehab’s MusicGlove make this more likely.
Patients recovering from massive stroke may still have severe impairments on their affected side, but some movement may have returned at this point, especially with daily rehabilitation.
Also, of the stroke patients that could not walk without assistance at the 6 month mark, 74% should be able to walk by the 2 year mark. This is a good reason to keep pushing for recovery even if results are slow.
Recovery Is Still Possible
Most stroke survivors will achieve independence at the 10-year mark. However, some patients may have neglected rehabilitation during the early stages.
When recovery has been neglected, there is still hope, even a decade after stroke. Plenty of research shows that aging adults can still engage neuroplasticity through rigorous training programs.
Although the brain is not in a heightened state of plasticity anymore, recovery is still possible at any stage after stroke.
Tips to Optimize Your Stroke Recovery
Now that you understand how your stroke recovery timeline might unfold, let’s discuss ways to make it better.
Here are our best tips to speed up recovery from stroke:
- Home modifications. Once you are discharged home, work with an occupational therapist to optimize your home. (S)he may recommend non-slip mats, grab bars in the shower, etc. This can help improve your safety and avoid setbacks from devastating falls.
- Daily rehab exercise. After inpatient rehab, it’s important to keep doing rehab exercises every day at home. At-home rehab technology like Flint Rehab’s FitMi can help motivate you to do this.
- Passive exercise. If you struggle with post-stroke paralysis, then get started with passive exercises to help rewire the brain and improve movement. It’s impossible to know how long paralysis lasts after stroke. However, starting rehabilitation as soon as possible will help improve your chances of recovery.
- Experiment with different therapies. There are many different ways to improve movement after stroke. Some examples include electrical stimulation, acupuncture, and mental practice, just to name a few. It’s important to explore all available stroke rehabilitation methods until you find one that works best for you.
- Never give up! Stroke rehabilitation is unpredictable. While this stroke recovery timeline presented some patterns, it’s impossible to know how long or how far your can take your recovery. It’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself — and you won’t know until you try.
To conclude our stroke recovery timeline, here’s an important reminder:
No matter how long it has been since your stroke, there is always hope for recovery.
Even if you have stopped rehabilitation for 20 years, you can always pick things back up and start recovering again. Keep going.