Number 1: Make Sure You Keep Your Muscles Moving
After a stroke the connection between your brain and muscles can be disrupted. This results in muscle weakness or paralysis.
Are you aware of the other issue that can arise if you stop using your muscles after a stroke?
The size of your muscles can decrease and they also get even weaker – this is called muscle atrophy.
Paralysis and muscle atrophy can both be improved with physiotherapy and a good exercise program.
What is Muscle Atrophy and Paralysis?
Weakness commonly occurs following a stroke as a result of interruption to the connection between your brain and your muscles. Post stroke weakness or paralysis on one side of the body is called hemiparesis or hemiplegia. This weakness/paralysis then makes movement much more difficult.
As a result of this movement impairment, the individual obviously moves less, and when the muscles aren’t being used as much, they can become smaller and weaker, and the technical term for this is, muscle atrophy.
This is the opposite of muscle hypertrophy which is when you increase your muscle size and strength through lifting weights.
Muscle atrophy occurs when you fail to move your muscles enough for them to stay healthy.
Further Complications Following Stroke
Very commonly following stroke, the individual will also have issues with their swallowing, memory and hand function. Unfortunately, these problems can further magnify the muscle atrophy issues mentioned above, as now the individual is unable to get adequate nutrition into their body and instead, it uses muscle tissue as an energy source.
You may notice that many survivors lose weight following their stroke, the lack of movement as well as lack of appropriate nutrition causes the muscles to deteriorate rapidly.
Thankfully, lots can be done to reverse the effects of both of these issues.
So How Do We Improve Muscle Atrophy or Paralysis?
Your body is a remarkable machine, and can adapt to stimulus very quickly. Paralysis can be improved and atrophy can be reversed via increasing the regular rehabilitation exercises which increase muscular movement and resistance.
If the stroke survivor has suffered a large stroke, and now cannot move their muscles by themselves (hemiplegia) then rehabilitation strategies are required to get the limbs moving again. This may include modified strengthening, mental practice and electrical stimulation.
As the individual progressively improves, the individual can move through a structured rehabilitation program which slowly increases the resistance placed on the muscles, causing them to regain strength and size (hypertrophy).
Number 2: Start Daily Exercises To Relieve Muscle Tightness
Range of motion exercises and stretches are important after stroke as they can assist your joints and muscles to remain loose and move freely.
I am going to share with you a few range of motion exercises which you can introduce to your daily stretching routine.
There are numerous benefits to moving your muscles, particular involving muscle stiffness. This in-turn may reduce pain and inflexibility.
So, what about if you can’t even move your muscles yourself? Well, passive exercise (something moves your muscles for you) still helps to signal your brain to keep the connections active.
The following exercises will help improve movement and flexibility in your affected limb.
1. Wrist Flexor Stretch
So, what about if you can’t even move your muscles yourself? Well, passive exercise (something moves your muscles for you) may still help to keep joint mobility.
The following exercises may help improve flexibility in your affected limb:
- Wrist Flexor Stretch
From a seated or standing position, place your arm out in front of you. Then, use your opposite hand to stretch your forearm with your palm facing upwards. You should feel this stretch all the way up your inner arm.
Hold this stretch for 20 seconds and release. Then, repeat on the other side and perform these 5 times. Repeat 3 – 4 times per day.
2. Finger Stretch
Hold each finger in this stretched position for 20 seconds and release. Repeat 5x per finger and repeat 3 times per day.
And remember: never stretch to the point of pain.
3. Table Slide
You will need: a table and a towel.
Clasp your hands and place your arms on the table. Then, place a towel on the table in front of you.
Then, glide your arms across the table towards using the towel to reduce resistance. Stretch as you lean forward and then return to an upright position.
Repeat 5 times and try to stretch a little further each time.
Remember – do not stretch past the point of pain.
Stretching until it’s painful is not helpful and can actually cause serious damage. So always stretch safely!
Number 3: Activate Neuroplasticity Through Repetition And Consistency.
If you are a stroke survivor, then I have some good news:
Improvement is possible at any age and any stage post-stroke.
If you have been told, or you believe, that it’s been too long since your stroke for you to improve (or bust through the plateau) then please keep reading.
Your brain is plastic, meaning that it can rewire itself, it doesn’t matter how long ago you stopped your rehabilitation, your brain is always capable of change.
Neuroplasticity is activated through repetition and consistency. Whenever you practice something, your brain becomes engaged and starts to create connections and adapt itself to get better at the task.
A practical example of this would be a taxi driver, who has an intricate knowledge of thousands of streets, whereby having more brain cells in the part of the brain relevant to the knowledge of maps.
For stroke survivors, this means that it doesn’t matter if it’s been two months or two decades since your stroke. Practice can spark new changes in your brain whenever you simply start to practice.
Unfortunately, there is a ‘disclaimer’ to this, that being, as we age, the ability for the brain to remodel itself slows down. Therefore, as we age, it takes more time and consistency to activate neuroplasticity. However, let’s focus on the positives, no matter what your age, it is still possible to achieve success.
So, don’t ever label yourself as being too old, or too long following a stroke, remember, where there is a will, there is a way.
So, there you have it, the top 3 things that you can implement today to improve your movement following a stroke. There’s obviously so much more you can do, and I could go into much more depth on ways to improve your life following a stroke than the principles I’ve given you here, but these fundamentals, if you apply them rigorously and are disciplined, will make a huge difference to your ability to move.
In the weeks ahead I’ll be sending you even more tips and advice on how to maximise your recovery following stroke and will share with you how Concentric Rehabilitation Centre can make a huge difference to the life of a stroke survivor.
Yours in Health
Dr. Kate Scrivener and Nicholas Young
Concentric Rehabilitation Centre