Stroke is a leading cause of disability in the US, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted a 30 percent increase in strokes worldwide between the years 2000 and 2025. After a stroke, many patients struggle to regain muscle control and strength. Weakness, paralysis, and trouble controlling movements of limbs are common disabilities that a person might struggle with after a stroke. Up to 80 percent of stroke patients suffer from weakness or paralysis of an upper extremity (like an arm and/or hand), and while much of the recovery happens in the first 3 months after the stroke, studies show that recovery of upper extremity or hand movement can happen even years after a stroke occurrence. Rehabilitation helps stroke patients relearn lost skills or come up with alternative ways to handle their daily tasks. Most of the time, a stroke patient’s rehab begins within 24-48 hours of the stroke, and it will probably continue for months or years. Research has shown that strengthening exercises, done repetitively, offer good results for offsetting this weakness.
Strength Training Helps Stroke Patients
An Australian study published in 2006 looked at the effects of strength training for stroke patients. Researchers were interested to find out if strength training improved strength levels, if it was harmful through creating more muscle spasticity (i.e., rigid muscles or exaggerated reflexes), and if it actually helped stroke patients increase their activity levels. This type of study, called a systematic review, summarized the results of the data collected for a number of trials involving various methods of strength training including biofeedback, electrical stimulation, and muscle re-education (either using robotics or a therapist). The results revealed that these strength-building activities did increase stroke patients’ strength. There were no indications that the activities created more spasticity in the participants, and stroke patients were able to increase their activity levels. As a result of this review, researchers recommended that stroke patients take part in a strengthening exercise program as part of their treatment for at least 6 months after the stroke.
Strength-Building Activities for Stroke Patients
Though there are a number of treatments to help stroke patients rebuild their motor skills, these treatments can be divided into physical activities and activities that use technology. According to the Mayo Clinic, a stroke patient’s rehabilitation plan will be individualized based on the part of the body affected. Physical activities that build strength in stroke patients might include motor skill exercises to help restore coordination or constraint-induced therapy which restrains the unaffected extremity and forces the stroke patient to use the body part affected by the stroke. Activities that utilize technology could include electrical stimulation of muscles which builds strength. Another tech form of rehabilitation for stroke patients involves robotic machines that help affected limbs move repetitively, building strength and functionality.
Recovering from a stroke can seem frustrating and time-consuming. However, research shows that doing the hard work of physical activities in rehab, along with tech-assisted rehab activities, can build the strength you need to move past the weakness that is present shortly after a stroke event. Doctorpedia supports you in your recovery efforts, and we encourage you to talk to your physician and physical therapist about the best individualized rehabilitation plan for you!
- Strengthening interventions increase strength and improve activity after stroke: a systematic review
- Rehabilitation of Motor Function after Stroke: A Multiple Systematic Review Focused on Techniques to Stimulate Upper Extremity Recovery
- Stroke rehabilitation: What to expect as you recover: Mayo Clinic
- Post-stroke rehabilitation fact sheet: NINDS
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.