Monday, July 2nd, 2018
Last modified on August 30th, 2022
Weakness or paralysis is very common after a stroke. In fact, approximately nine out of every ten survivors of stroke experience some type of limitation in muscle movement. The two most common kinds of post-stroke paralysis, or inability for muscles to move voluntarily, are hemiplegia and hemiparesis. Hemiplegia refers to severe paralysis of one side of the body. Hemiplegia is painful and can result in spasticity, stiffness or spasms in the muscles, or atrophy, the wasting away of the muscles. Hemiparesis is less severe than hemiplegia and is characterized by a weakness on one side of the body, typically most observable in the extremities, such as the hands. Hemiparesis can make it very difficult to perform even basic daily tasks, as it affects a survivor’s ability to grasp and release objects. It can also cause loss of balance, difficulty walking, and muscle fatigue.
Many people incorrectly believe that it’s impossible to recover movement in limbs suffering from paralysis, but scientific and technological advances in the world of stroke rehabilitation have made it possible for many patients to improve function.
Mirror therapy is a simple yet efficient stroke rehabilitation technique. According to research published by the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, mirror therapy helps enhance upper-extremity motor skills and daily functioning in stroke survivors, as well as reducing chronic pain.
Mirror therapy is performed by attaching a mirror to the outside wall of a medium-sized box. The affected hand is placed inside the box and out of sight, while the healthy one remains outside and creates the reflection. The patient then performs exercises with the healthy hand, causing the mirror to reflect an image of the healthy hand where the affected hand should be.
This process “tricks” the brain into thinking that the affected limb is moving the same as the unaffected one, helping the brain rewire itself through a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s extraordinary ability to form new neural connections based on environmental experiences.
Through the consistent practice, mirror therapy can help movement be recovered in a hand affected by the stroke. In some cases, mirror therapy can even help a survivor unclench the affected hand from a painful position.
There are a variety of new technologies available to help recover motor function after a stroke, including specialized stroke rehabilitation tools. The SaeboGlove and the SaeboFlex were both developed by Saebo specifically to help stroke survivors recover hand function. The SaeboFlex was recently part of a study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, which followed a patient who demonstrated remarkable improvement decades after stroke. The participant wore the SaeboFlex during hand therapy and, after only a few months, experienced significant improvement in hand function. He also showed an increase in hand control and strength when he used the SaeboGlove, another hand device designed by Saebo. Tools like the SaeboGlove and SaeboFlex help survivors perform important rehabilitative exercises and necessary functions despite significant impairment or loss of function.
Another promising treatment for post-stroke weakness or paralysis is electrical stimulation. Electrical stimulation is the application, through electrodes on the skin, of electrical current to muscles to stimulate contractions. Patients of electrical stimulation can experience decreased pain, muscle re-education and strengthening, increased range of motion, increased circulation, decreased spasticity, reduced edema, decreased inflammation and improvement in overall function. The SaeboStim Micro is an electrical stimulation device that is easy for a survivor to use at home, with all the benefit of more expensive therapist-operated equipment. The Micro is a sensory electrical stimulation device, which is better for encouraging the return of sensation.
The brain is capable of forming new connections in response to a brain injury. Neuroplasticity helps re–establish communication between the injured parts of the brain and the body. This phenomenon, in part, is what enables stroke survivors to regain motor function in the hands and other areas of the body. For neuroplasticity to occur, the neurons must be continuously stimulated through activity.
Stroke survivors who use repetition to promote neuroplasticity show significant progress in their recoveries. One study found that patients who struggled with grasp and release exercises demonstrated increased reorganization in the cortical area of the brain after taking part in a repetitive rehabilitation program.
This is why performing at-home exercises repeatedly is so important. Without dedicated repetition, the brain cannot rebuild the neural networks that were damaged during the stroke. The quality of the practice is important, too. Exercises must be performed in a present and engaged state of mind. This will also help bolster the necessary motivation to move past plateaus.
During stroke rehabilitation, there are natural dips and peaks in recovery. It does not occur in a straight line. There may be times when a survivor experiences a plateau. During a plateau, it might seem like progress is impossible, or a distant memory. However, it is both possible and necessary to persist through the plateau to continue making progress. Utilizing a strong support system — friends, family, and therapist — can make a big difference in continuing the journey to recovery.
Stroke rehabilitation as a whole can be a slow process. However, it is important not to lose hope. Stroke survivors can recover function in paralyzed limbs, sometimes even decades after a stroke. The key is to keep in mind the importance of repetition, and work with your physician and therapist to decide the best approach to your rehabilitation.
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.