Stroke rehabilitation: What to expect as you recover

Stroke rehabilitation (stroke rehab) is an important part of recovery after stroke. Find out what's involved in stroke rehabilitation. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Getting back on your feet is likely one of your top concerns after a stroke, and stroke rehabilitation can help. The goal of a stroke rehabilitation program is to help you relearn skills lost when stroke affected part of your brain. Participating in stroke rehabilitation helps you regain independence and improve your quality of life.

The severity of stroke complications and each person's ability to recover lost abilities varies widely. However, stroke rehabilitation can usually help you achieve the best long-term outcomes.

What's involved in stroke rehabilitation?

Stroke rehabilitation may include some or all of the following activities:

  • Therapy for communication disorders can help you regain lost abilities in speaking, listening, writing and comprehension.
  • Strengthening motor skills involves using exercises to help improve your muscle strength and coordination.
  • Mobility training may include learning to use walking aids, such as a walker or canes, or a plastic brace to stabilize and assist ankle strength (orthosis) to help support your body's weight while you relearn how to walk.
  • Range of motion therapy uses exercises and other treatments to help lessen muscle tension (spasticity) and regain range of motion.
  • Psychological evaluation may involve testing your cognitive skills, counseling with a mental health professional, participating in support groups, and using medicines for mood if needed.
  • Constraint-induced therapy, also known as "forced-use" therapy, involves restricting use of an unaffected limb while you practice moving the affected limb. Forcing you to use the affected arm or leg can help improve its function.
  • Electrical stimulation involves using electricity to stimulate weakened muscles, causing them to contract. This may help with muscle re-education in some individuals.
  • Robotic technology uses robotic devices to assist impaired limbs with performing repetitive motions, helping them regain strength and function.
  • Virtual reality is an emerging, computer-based therapy that involves interacting with a simulated, real-time environment.

When should stroke rehabilitation begin?

Stroke rehabilitation should begin as soon as possible after a stroke. The first priority is to stabilize your medical condition and get life-threatening conditions under control. Doctors also take measures to prevent another stroke and limit any stroke-related complications. However, once these steps have been taken, it's common for stroke rehabilitation to start during your acute hospital stay. The sooner you begin stroke rehabilitation, the more likely you are to regain lost abilities and skills.

How long does stroke rehabilitation last?

The duration of your stroke rehabilitation depends on the severity of your stroke and related complications. While some stroke survivors recover quickly, most stroke survivors need some form of stroke rehabilitation long term, possibly months or years, after their stroke. Your stroke rehabilitation plan will change during your recovery as you relearn skills and your needs change.

The length of each stroke rehabilitation therapy session varies depending on your recovery, severity of your symptoms and responsiveness to therapy.

Jun. 11, 2011 See more In-depth