Stroke Recovery Statistics and Truths of Improvements
Time is so important in stroke recovery; it can work both for us and against us. I lost 9.5 years before I saw an OT in December 2018 who really worked with me on my hand. She honestly told me that time was against me, but that it wasn’t impossible.
The part that still sticks in my head is that “it isn’t impossible.”
I lost 9.5 years just being complacent and not understanding what I could be doing to help myself. I don’t want you to fall into the same complacency I did. I am sharing my journey with you in hopes of inspiring you to work hard on your recovery and in therapy.
The best advice I can give you is don’t let time slip away from you.
The brain is plastic, which means it can change, adapt, and learn new things (as well as forget). To learn something, we practice it over and over and the brain activates neuroplasticity, which basically means the brain is wiring itself to know how to do that new thing. It creates neural pathways. The more and more we do an action, those neural pathways get stronger.
If you had a stroke that left any deficits, you can work on getting back function. When you move a finger, wrist, arm, the body has a sequence of neurons (a motor chain) that fire simultaneously to make that movement happen. All a stroke did was cause the body to forget that motor chain. With therapy exercises we can work with the brain’s neuroplasticity to relearn any of the forgotten motor chains, that sequence of neurons that fire together. Therapy exercises are a workout on your brain. Your brain needs the workout to build those new neural pathways.
While lying in the ICU after my car accident and subsequent stroke I was told nerves can take up to 20 years to regenerate. But, talking to other stroke survivors, they had been told, the first year or two after a stroke is when all the gains will be made. Others were told they could not improve anymore.
Stroke recovery requires repetition, a lot of repetition. It was reported in a presentation seen by a survivor in this FB group (from published articles in medical journals) that it takes 10,000 repetitions of skilled movement and another reported that recovery of finger sequences requires 31,500 repetitions over 35 days.
This last statistic from a study boggles my mind! If I just put forth quality effort in 35 days, It reports I could relearn a finger sequence. A finger sequence is that motor chain that we can learn through neuroplasticity and consistent effort. But it is possible!
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”-Francis of Assisi
Another member shared an article in the New York Times about a gentleman who had a 14-year journey to recovery that included “full physical function [of his right side]. Comprehension, and intelligible speech.” He said that his theory was that if he could get his left side moving, he could eventually regain his speech and the ability to comprehend what was written or said to him. Because of this, he started exercising and “working long hours in the gym.” He also talked about how he would use visualization techniques to visualize the movements he wanted to make. He convinced himself that recovery was 100% possible and that a positive attitude remained even through inability and setbacks.
While some survivors are told two years, even one year of improvements is all you get and I was told nerves regenerate over 20 years and then studies tell us “X” number of repetitions what is the truth behind improvements after a stroke?
->Stroke recovery is hard work
->Stroke recovery takes consistent action
->Stroke recovery takes persistence
->Stroke recovery takes resiliency
->Stroke recovery takes a positive attitude
These two proven studies illustrate that recovery happens over time with repetition, determination, resiliency, and a positive attitude. You must believe that you can do it and put in the work. I know there are also so many success stories that are unknown to us.
This last article I read summed up this post so well that I had to include it,
“His mantra, which could help many others facing a health setback, is that recovery takes determination, focus, resiliency, persistence and courage—the courage to weather repeated setbacks and frustrations.”
I Choose Forward Movement
With all this information, I choose to think positively and work hard to get the use of my body back. There have been times I slacked off during the week, but, if I just keep my goal in the front of my mind and do the work to gain the repetition, I do believe recovery is possible. Even if it also takes me 14+ years, I will not give up. My hope is that you won’t either.