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 stories from other survivors.
Every stroke is different, and therefore every recovery is different. This timeline is not a definitive guide — rather, it’s a rough outline of general patterns and milestones you may experience.
It’s important to understand that your stroke recovery timeline will likely deviate from this outline in small or big ways. While milestones fluctuate greatly from person to person, we hope this general overview is helpful.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Stroke Recovery Timeline Part 1: The Early Stages
Here’s a general overview of the early stages of stroke recovery:
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 immediate medical attention to restore blood flow in the brain and save the person’s life.
Stroke Rehabilitation Begins ASAP
Once the stroke has been treated, rehabilitation begins immediately. This often means starting rehab right from the hospital bed.
Rehabilitation starts quickly to take advantage of the brain’s heightened state of neuroplasticity.
Survivors often experience the fastest improvements immediately after injury because the brain is rapidly trying to heal itself from the injury.
Discharge from the Hospital
First 3 Months
The Fastest Recovery Has Occurred
After the first 3 months of stroke recovery, improvements may slow down. Some refer to this as the post-stroke plateau, and it’s important to know that this does not mean recovery is over. It means that rehabilitation is critical to keep improving.
When recovery slows down, however, most inpatient rehab facilities discharge patients to continue recovery at home. The good news is that you can keep recovering with consistent outpatient therapy and a home therapy program.
Stroke Recovery Timeline Part 2: Milestones during Rehab at Home
After the first 3 months, recovery starts to vary even more among survivors. Because of the uniqueness of recovery, it’s impossible to create a stroke recovery timeline that applies to everyone. However, there are still some patterns worth noting.
Here’s an overview of other milestones on the road to recovery:
Outpatient Therapy Continues
After discharge from inpatient rehab, you can begin outpatient rehab, where you travel to and from the clinic for physical and occupational therapy.
During these visits, you will work alongside your therapists to continue rehabilitating the effects of a stroke.
At this point, developing an effective home exercise plan is even more critical to your success.
Gait Improves in Most Stroke Patients
About 65-85% of stroke patients will learn to walk independently after 6 months of rehabilitation. For those still working on gait rehabilitation, recovery may take more time.
Fortunately, functional recovery is possible for a lifetime. As long as the person continues with rehabilitation, recovery can continue as well.
Recovery Looks Different for Everyone
At the 2 year mark, it’s impossible to say where any single survivor will be on their recovery journey. Some might have fully recovered function while others are still pursuing rehabilitation.
One comforting statistic is that, of the stroke survivors 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 great reason to keep participating in rehabilitation.
Recovery Is Still Possible
As the years go by, recovery continues to look different for everyone. It all depends on your unique secondary effects and how consistently you participate in rehabilitation.
On that note, one study followed stroke survivors over 5 years and found that “the level of functional and motor performance at 5 years post stroke was equivalent to the level measured at 2 months.”
Researchers credit the initial gains during the first 2 months of recovery to the intensity of inpatient rehabilitation.
To maximize recovery, participate in intensive rehabilitation well after discharge from inpatient rehab; for example, by practicing a home exercise program on a daily basis.
While it’s impossible to predict where any survivor will be at the 5 year mark, one thing is clear:
The more you pursue rehabilitation, the more results you will see.
See How Others Survivors Are Doing
It’s worth repeating that every stroke is different and therefore every recovery is different. Where one survivors is at the 2- or 5-year mark will differ greatly from others.
Still, it can be motivating to see how others are doing at different moments in their own unique journeys.
Below are some great examples of survivors pushing for recovery years after a stroke. These are actually videos from our very own FitMi home therapy users, who submitted videos to help others see how much they have progressed:
1 Year Post-Stroke
Meet Anthony, who sustained left-side paralysis (hemiplegia) after his stroke. He started using FitMi as his home exercise program after 3 months, and has continued to improve. He still struggles with hand mobility, which can often take longer to recover than the arm or leg. Nevertheless, hand function can continue to improve with consistent rehabilitation.
2 Years Post-Stroke
Meet Mary, a stroke survivor that was in a coma for 5 weeks after her stroke. She is an example of outstanding recovery, even when a situation may seem grim in the early stages.
Mary sustained right-side paralysis (hemiplegia) and participated in inpatient rehab for another 5 weeks. After two years, she felt like she reached a plateau, but broke through it by pursuing a consistent home exercise program.
3.5 Years Post-Stroke
Meet Carolyn, a stroke survivor that overcame right-side paralysis. After discharge from inpatient rehabilitation, she used FitMi home therapy to keep improving at home. Now she is able to drive, ride her bike, and travel with confidence.
11 Years Post-Stroke
Meet Becky, a brain stem stroke survivor that is going on 11 years of recovery. Brain stem strokes can lead to a condition called locked-in syndrome where the person becomes effectively paralyzed except for the eyes. Becky has come a long way to overcome paralysis and regain mobility. She is living proof of what’s possible.
Tips to Optimize Your Stroke Recovery
Now that you understand different milestones on the road to recovery, let’s discuss ways to improve.
Here are our best tips to speed up recovery from stroke:
- 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.
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.