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How to Overcome Synergistic Movement After Stroke (When One Movement Leads to Many)

how to treat synergistic movement after stroke

When you move your arm, does your shoulder hike up? This is called a synergistic movement, and during the early stages of stroke recovery, it’s very common.

Synergistic movement happens when you try to make one movement on your affected side, and you end up making multiple movements.

For example, trying to move your affected arm might result in hand and shoulder movements too. While movement is a great sign during stroke recovery, synergistic movement is less than ideal.

If you’re frustrated by this phenomenon, don’t worry. This article will guide you through the cause of synergistic movement and how to overcome this unwanted movement pattern. Let’s get started.

Synergistic Movement in the Early Stages of Stroke Recovery

Synergistic movement (also known as synergy) occurs when stroke damages the part of the brain that controls your affected muscles.

When your brain cannot correctly send signals to your affected side, problems like flaccidity (no movement in the muscles) or synergistic movement occur. Although synergistic movement might seem like a frustrating problem, it’s actually a sign of improvement.

Synergistic movement is the second stage in the Brunnstrom stages of stroke recovery, following flaccidity.

Flaccidity occurs when there is zero movement in the affected muscles. Synergistic movement occurs after the affected muscles start to “wake up.” Although synergy can be frustrating, it’s a sign that progress is happening!

Now, let’s talk about how to keep your progress going during recovery after stroke.

Unlinking Synergistic Movement

When your brain is relearning how to control your affected muscles, it’s not a smooth process.

Initially, synergistic movement occurs, but through physical and occupational therapy, you can reprogram your brain to move your muscles correctly – without making other unnecessary movements.

The best way to retrain your brain is with repetitive practice of therapeutic stroke rehabilitation exercises. Repetition is the best treatment for mobility issues after stroke.

Whenever you repeat something, you strengthen the neural pathways in your brain responsible for that task. That’s why habits become second nature – the neural pathways have been strengthened through repetition.

When you practice arm exercises repetitively, you start to strengthen the neural connections that control your affected arm. However, it can be difficult to practice these exercises when synergistic movement makes all your other muscles move.

This might cause you to worry about learning bad movements. Next, we’ll discuss why you don’t need to worry about that when you try your best each time you exercise.

How to Get Rid of Synergistic Movement Patterns

Most therapists will agree that it is not ideal to practice rehab exercises incorrectly (i.e. with synergistic movement patterns), as it could reinforce these “bad” movement patterns.

However, when severe spasticity and synergistic movement prevent a stroke patient from moving at all, it’s clear that any type of movement is better than no movement when you’re trying your best and focusing on good form every time.

As long as you are trying your best to use good form every time you exercise, you will continue to get better and better.

At this stage of recovery, you will get the most out of your exercises by doing them directly with your therapists – they can use manual therapy techniques to help your limb(s) move with more proper form during each repetition. This will help to reinforce proper movement patterns vs. synergistic patterns.

Summary: Synergistic Movement After Stroke

Synergistic movements happen when you try to move one body part (like your arm) and end up moving multiple parts (like your arm, hand, and shoulder).

You can minimize synergistic movement patterns by practicing therapeutic rehab exercises. Repetition of these movements helps rewire the brain and ‘separate’ your muscle movements.

With consistent practice, you will work towards being able to move your arm and only your arm.

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You’re Really on a Roll! See how Jerry is regaining movement with FitMi home therapy

My husband is getting better and better!

“My name is Monica Davis but the person who is using the FitMi is my husband, Jerry. I first came across FitMi on Facebook. I pondered it for nearly a year. In that time, he had PT, OT and Speech therapy, as well as vision therapy.

I got a little more serious about ordering the FitMi when that all ended 7 months after his stroke. I wish I hadn’t waited to order it. He enjoys it and it is quite a workout!

He loves it when he levels up and gets WOO HOOs! It is a wonderful product! His stroke has affected his left side. Quick medical attention, therapy and FitMi have helped him tremendously!”

Monica & Jerry’s FitMi review

What are these “WOO HOOs” about?

FitMi is like your own personal therapist encouraging you to accomplish the high repetition of exercise needed to improve.

When you beat your high score or unlock a new exercise, FitMi provides a little “woo hoo!” as auditory feedback. It’s oddly satisfying and helps motivate you to keep up the great work.

In Jerry’s photo below, you can see him with the FitMi pucks below his feet for one of the leg exercises:

FitMi is beloved by survivors and used in America’s top rehab clinics

Many therapists recommend using FitMi at home between outpatient therapy visits and they are amazed by how much faster patients improve when using it.

It’s no surprise why over 14,000 OTs voted for FitMi as “Best of Show” at the annual AOTA conference; and why the #1 rehabilitation hospital in America, Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, uses FitMi with their patients.

This award-winning home therapy device is the perfect way to continue recovery from home. Read more stories and reviews by clicking the button below: