Stroke Rehabilitation: What to Expect While Recovering

The goal of stroke rehabilitation is to help you relearn the skills you lost when the disease affected part of your brain. Stroke rehabilitation can help you regain independence and improve your quality of life.

The severity of stroke complications and each person’s ability to recover vary widely. Researchers have found that people who participate in a stroke rehabilitation program have better outcomes than most people who do not have rehabilitation.

What is stroke rehabilitation?

There are many approaches to stroke rehabilitation. The rehabilitation plan will depend on the part of your body or the type of capacity that the stroke has affected you.

Physical activities may include the following:

  • Exercises for motor skills. These exercises can help improve muscle strength and coordination. You may receive therapy so that you have more strength to swallow.
  • Mobility training. You can learn to use mobility aids, such as a walker, canes, wheelchair, or ankle brace. The ankle brace can stabilize and strengthen your ankle so that you can support your body weight while you learn to walk again.
  • Restraint induced movement therapy. The use of the unaffected limb is restricted while you practice moving the affected limb to improve its function. This therapy is sometimes called “forced-use therapy.
  • Range-of-motion therapy. Certain exercises and treatments can relieve muscle tension (spasticity) and help you regain range of motion.

Technology-assisted physical activities may include the following:

  • Functional electrical stimulation. Electricity is applied to weakened muscles, causing them to contract. Electrical stimulation can help re-educate muscles.
  • Robotic technology. Robotic devices can assist affected limbs in repetitive movements, allowing them to regain strength and function.
  • Wireless technology. An activity monitor can help you increase activity after a stroke.
  • Virtual Reality. The use of video games and other computer-based therapies involves interacting with a simulated environment in real time.

Cognitive and emotional activities may include the following:

  • Therapy for cognitive disorders. Occupational therapy and speech therapy can help you with cognitive abilities you have lost, such as memory, processing ability, problem solving ability, social skills, judgment, and safety awareness.
  • Therapy for communication disorders. Speech therapy can help you regain the ability to speak, listen, write, and understand what you have lost.
  • Psychological evaluation and treatment. They may assess your emotional adjustment. You could also go to therapy or join a support group.
  • Medications. Your doctor may recommend an antidepressant or medicine that affects alertness, agitation, or movement.

Experimental therapies include the following:

  • non-invasive brain stimulation Techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation have been used with some success in a research setting to improve various motor skills.
  • Biologic therapies, such as stem cell therapy, are being investigated, but should only be used as part of a clinical trial.
  • Alternative medicine. Treatments such as massage, herbal therapy, acupuncture and oxygen therapy are being evaluated.

When should I start rehabilitation after a stroke?

The sooner you start rehabilitation after a stroke, the more likely it is that you will regain the skills and abilities you had lost.

However, doctors’ immediate priorities are as follows:

  • Stabilizing your illness
  • Manage life-threatening conditions
  • Prevent another stroke
  • Limit stroke-related complications

It is common for rehabilitation to begin between 24 and 48 hours after the stroke, while you are in the hospital.

How long does rehabilitation last after a stroke?

The length of rehabilitation after a stroke depends on the severity of the stroke and related complications. Some stroke survivors recover quickly. However, most require a form of long-term rehabilitation, which may last for months or years after the stroke.

The rehabilitation plan after a stroke will change during recovery as you relearn the skills you lost and your needs change. With ongoing practice, you can achieve important results over time.

Where is stroke rehabilitation performed?

You will probably begin stroke rehabilitation while you are in the hospital. Before discharge, you and your family will talk with hospital social workers and the care team to determine the most appropriate rehabilitation site. Different factors will be considered, such as your needs, what your health insurance covers, and what is best for you and your family.

Here are some options:

  • Inpatient rehabilitation units. These centers are independent or are part of a larger hospital or clinic. You can stay at the center for up to two or three weeks as part of an intensive rehabilitation program.
  • Outpatient units. These centers are usually part of a hospital or clinic. You may spend a few hours at the centre a couple of days a week.
  • Skilled nursing facilities. Nursing homes offer different types of care. Some centers specialize in rehabilitation, while others offer less intensive treatment options.
  • Home programs. Doing treatment at home provides more flexibility than other options. One disadvantage is that you probably don’t have access to specialized rehabilitation equipment. In addition, the insurance strictly controls who is eligible for home treatment.

Talk to your doctor and your family about which option is right for you.