Stroke rehabilitation: What to expect as you recover

Stroke rehabilitation is an important part of recovery after stroke. Find out what's involved in stroke rehabilitation.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The goal of stroke rehabilitation is to help you relearn skills you lost when a stroke 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 focused stroke rehabilitation program perform better than most people who don't have stroke rehabilitation.

What's involved in stroke rehabilitation?

There are many approaches to stroke rehabilitation. Your rehabilitation plan will depend on the part of the body or type of ability affected by your stroke.

Physical activities might include:

  • Motor-skill exercises. These exercises can help improve your muscle strength and coordination. You might have therapy to strengthen your swallowing.
  • Mobility training. You might learn to use mobility aids, such as a walker, canes, wheelchair or ankle brace. The ankle brace can stabilize and strengthen your ankle to help support your body's weight while you relearn to walk.
  • Constraint-induced therapy. An unaffected limb is restrained while you practice moving the affected limb to help improve its function. This therapy is sometimes called forced-use therapy.
  • Range-of-motion therapy. Certain exercises and treatments can ease muscle tension (spasticity) and help you regain range of motion.

Technology-assisted physical activities might include:

  • Functional electrical stimulation. Electricity is applied to weakened muscles, causing them to contract. The electrical stimulation may help re-educate your muscles.
  • Robotic technology. Robotic devices can assist impaired limbs with performing repetitive motions, helping the limbs to regain strength and function.
  • Wireless technology. An activity monitor might help you increase post-stroke activity.
  • Virtual reality. The use of video games and other computer-based therapies involves interacting with a simulated, real-time environment.

Cognitive and emotional activities might include:

  • Therapy for cognitive disorders. Occupational therapy and speech therapy can help you with lost cognitive abilities, such as memory, processing, problem-solving, social skills, judgment and safety awareness.
  • Therapy for communication disorders. Speech therapy can help you regain lost abilities in speaking, listening, writing and comprehension.
  • Psychological evaluation and treatment. Your emotional adjustment might be tested. You might also have counseling or participate in a support group.
  • Medication. Your doctor might recommend an antidepressant or a medication that affects alertness, agitation or movement.

Experimental therapies include:

  • Noninvasive brain stimulation. Techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation have been used with some success in a research setting to help improve a variety of motor skills.
  • Biological therapies, such as stem cells, 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 stroke rehabilitation begin?

The sooner you begin stroke rehabilitation, the more likely you are to regain lost abilities and skills.

However, your doctors' immediate priorities are to:

  • Stabilize your medical condition
  • Control life-threatening conditions
  • Prevent another stroke
  • Limit any stroke-related complications

It's common for stroke rehabilitation to start as soon as 24 to 48 hours after your stroke, while you're in the hospital.

How long does stroke rehabilitation last?

The duration of your stroke rehabilitation depends on the severity of your stroke and related complications. Some stroke survivors recover quickly. But most need some form of long-term stroke rehabilitation, lasting possibly months or years after their stroke.

Your stroke rehabilitation plan will change during your recovery as you relearn skills and your needs change. With ongoing practice, you can continue to make gains over time.

May 24, 2017 See more In-depth