Surviving a stroke is impressive, but you are not out of the woods yet. A stroke happens when your brain cannot get enough oxygen or the blood supply is somehow blocked. Generally, a blood clot making its way up to your brain is the culprit. Unfortunately, there is not a fool proof way to prevent a stroke from happening, but there are ways to recover after having one.
This article compiles a list of tips and tricks to get stronger and regain your energy after suffering a stroke. If you start feeling tired and hopeless in the face of your recovery, remember to take some time to celebrate yourself and what you have already accomplished. You survived the stroke. You are still alive. Whatever it takes, remember that you are a survivor.
The most important way to get stronger is to be patient with yourself and retain a positive mindset. Even the most determined people will inevitably suffer setbacks on the road to recovery, and it can be easy to get frustrated. Losing your patience is the worst thing you can do because anger makes it more challenging to focus on the activity at hand.
This is especially true for people who suffer from cognitive issues after a stroke, including speech and memory problems. If you become frustrated, your mind will wander away, and you may start to stutter, use the wrong words, or lose the ability to speak at all. It can be alarming, but try your best not to panic. Take a deep breath and stay patient with yourself. You can do this.
Retrain Your Body Away From Hypersensitivity
Some people notice that some regions of their body are hypersensitive after a stroke. Your skin might register even a light touch as pain. You can work with your doctor or therapist to retrain your body to reduce the sensation and teach your body that not every bit of contact means pain. Work on being able to tolerate slight pressure in the area.
It may take some time, but repeated exposure to light pressure will eventually prove to your body that it does not need to overreact. Your brain will learn that the slight pressure does not equal pain and stop signalling your pain nerves to spring into action every time the slightest bit of pressure happens in the area.
The best way to get stronger is to exercise. However, a stroke often severely limits your mobility, and it can be difficult to get back to your activity level before the stroke. Do not expect to jump back in at full strength; after all, you are still recovering. Work with your doctor or therapist to establish a daily exercise routine to start getting your muscles used to moving again.
For Your Legs
One of the most common complaints from patients following a stroke is difficulty walking. If you have been bed-ridden after your stroke, your muscles have likely started to atrophy, and it may be more challenging to get your legs to support your body’s weight. These are some examples of assisted exercises to get your legs back on track.
Assisted Lateral Leg Swings
Stand up straight and hold on tight to a secure surface. Once you have your balance, transfer all of your weight to one leg. Carefully move the leg you do not currently have your weight positioned on out to the side. You do not have to lift it very high; the key to this exercise is to improve your balance, not become a ballerina. Switch legs after a few raises.
Assisted Knee Raises
This is an intermediate exercise. Hold on to a secure surface and bring one leg up in front of you with your knee bent. For those exercise buffs out there, you might know the exercise called High Knees, where you try to touch your knee to your chest while standing up straight. You do not need to bring your knee anywhere near your chest, however, to still benefit from this exercise.
Assisted Backwards Leg Raise
After you have mastered the above exercise, you can move on to a slightly more challenging exercise: knee raises. Once again, brace yourself against a stable surface, but this time, you will be lifting your leg directly behind yourself instead of out to the side. In ballet, this move is called an arabesque, but it is a great way to improve your balance.
Laying Down Leg Raises
If you lay down on the ground and place a pillow or other soft cushion underneath your knees, you can press down with the backs of your knees to try and lift your heels off of the ground. Doing this repeatedly focuses on your hips and core muscles. Those are important in keeping your balance and walking around without tiring too quickly.
This is an intermediate exercise. Lean back against the wall with your feet planted firmly on the ground about shoulder-width apart. Slide yourself down as you bend your knees and try to hold the position for about ten seconds before you stand back up. If you are worried about trying this exercise, ask someone to stand next to you if you need help standing up again.
Sitting Leg Extension
This exercise involves a fitness band or some other kind of protracted and stretchy material. If you do not have a fitness band, you can use tights or leggings in its place. Sit up straight on the ground or a solid surface. Put one foot inside the fitness band while your knee is bent, and then try to extend your leg while firmly gripping the fitness band.
If you want to enhance this exercise, put the fitness band around the ball of your foot, and when you have fully extended your leg, push forward to point your toes. That can also help people who are suffering from curled toes and clenched foot muscles by improving your range of movement in your legs and your feet.
This is an intermediate exercise. Lie on your side on the ground or another solid surface. Keep your knees bent, with one leg resting directly on top of the other. Lift your upper knee so that your top leg is in the air and try to hold it there for ten seconds before slowly lowering it again. You can use an arm to brace yourself and make sure you do not roll onto your back.
If you want to take this exercise to the next level, try lifting both your knee and that legs’ foot simultaneously and hold for ten seconds before lowering again. At first, you want to concentrate on just the knee, but as your muscles regain their strength, adding the whole leg in the lift can make this exercise a challenge.
For Your Arms
Another common problem that people experience after a stroke is the loss of use in one or both arms. Like your legs, you should talk to your doctor or therapist about establishing an exercise routine that allows you to regain mobility in your arms. The hands can be complicated because of the manual dexterity humans have.
Put your hands down on a solid surface and slowly rotate your hands so that your fingers are pointing towards your body. Keep your arms fully extended and slowly lean back until you feel a stretch in your arms. Try to hold the position for at least twenty seconds before releasing it. This should quickly improve your forearm flexibility and grip strength.
Sitting down, brace your bent arm against a table or other solid surface. Dangle one hand over the edge of the table. Make sure that your arm is entirely supinated, meaning that you are palm up. Use your other hand to bend your wrist backward towards your body slowly. You should quickly feel the stretch in your wrist and your hand muscles.
Sit comfortable and hold your arms in front of you. Then, curl your arms up as if you were trying to touch your shoulder with your own arm. Curl them all the way up and then hold the position for about ten seconds. Relax your arms back down, then fully extend your arms and hold that position for ten seconds. In between each curl or extension, take a second to rest so that your arms do not tire out too quickly.
Cow And Camel
This is actually a yoga exercise, but it is beneficial for someone recovering from a stroke. In this position, you start out by being on all fours. As you are on your hands and knees, lean your body backward while maintaining your arm positions. Keep your hands firmly planted and continue to lean back until you feel a stretch. Hold the position for ten seconds before relaxing.
You can be either sitting or standing for this exercise. Extend your arm entirely, and then rotate your wrist as far as it can go. Pretend that you are trying to trace a complete circle with your fingertips. First, turn your wrist to the left as far as you can and hold it for ten seconds, then rotate it entirely to the right and hold for another ten seconds.
Once you have completed those motions, bend your hand forward as if you were trying to touch the underside of your arm with your fingertips and hold. Then flex your hand to be as straight up and down as possible and hold that position too. If you want to step up your game, you can also clench your fist as tightly as possible for ten seconds before releasing here.
Forearm With Weights
Similar to the exercise listed above titled Forearm Curl, you repeat those same motions but with a lightweight in your hands. If possible, begin with a one-pound weight once you have become comfortable with the movements. You can then increase to a three and then five-pound weight as you become stronger over time.
This is an advanced exercise. Stand in front of a wall or a door. Put your fingers on the surface to rest lightly on there, then walk them upwards in a spider-like motion. Once you have brought your arms up as high as you can, then walk them back downwards. While they are up as high as possible, hold the position for ten seconds.
Bring them as far down as you can reach without bending your waist or knees, and then return them to a neutral position. While your hands are as far down as possible, hold the position for ten seconds before coming back to neutral. Repeat this exercise a few times before calling it quits for the day as you do not want to overtire your muscles.
In this exercise, you begin with your butt on the ground, your legs bent, feet planted firmly, and your arms behind your butt with your hands on the ground. You want to have your fingers pointing inwards towards your body. You can then push your pelvis upwards until your entire butt has been lifted off the ground. Try to hold this position for at least ten seconds before lowering again.
Standing Up On Your Own Two Feet
Some people deal with an issue commonly called claw feet, which means that your toe and foot muscles are permanently clenched into approximations of claws. That can make it difficult and painful to walk around. Many people with this condition find relief with feet and ankle braces, which help you stay steady as you take short walks around.
You can also use specific mobility exercises to teach your body to unclench your toes and strengthen the muscles again. Exercises like toe taps and floor grips can help you regain control over your toes so that they will only curl when your brain tells them to. By unclenching your toes, you can have an easier time moving around and do not have to hurt yourself.
Talk It Out
Many people suffer some kind of speech impediment after having a stroke. This is called aphasia. It can be extremely frustrating when you are trying to communicate and cannot hold up your end of the conversation, but if you continue to practice your speaking skills, you can learn small tricks to help you finish your thoughts and understand the main ideas.
Two primary types of aphasia happen when there is damage to the part of your brain that handles language.
This type of aphasia happens when a patient has difficulty understanding what is being said to them. If you are talking to someone with receptive aphasia, it is essential not to use long or complex sentences to focus on the central part of your idea.
When you have receptive aphasia, make sure that you are paying attention when someone is talking, and do not be shy about asking them to pause or repeat what they were saying. There is no shame in wanting to know what you are being told!
This type of aphasia happens when a patient has difficulty talking or expressing their ideas. If you have expressive aphasia, you need to be patient with yourself and take your time. Also, if you forget a particular word that you need, try talking around the word. If you forget the word “coffee,” try saying the brown drink that wakes you up in the morning.
The word will likely come back to you later, but in the meantime, the person whom you are talking to will know what you mean, and you can continue your sentence without losing patience about forgetting a single word. Getting hung up on a word can make it harder for you to finish the phrase or idea.
Establish A Daily Routine
If you are suffering from memory or cognitive problems, having a stable daily routine can go a long way towards alleviating your day-to-day worries. If every day you go through the same routine, you will not have to worry about forgetting something crucial like taking your medication at a specific time or doing your mobility exercises.
Do Not Strongarm Your Recovery
Many people tend to rely on whichever arm is stronger after their stroke. It is reliable and more convenient. After all, if you want to get something done, why would you use the arm that is not capable, moves slower, and might fail you? Unfortunately, by not using the weaker arm, it never has the time to get stronger.
Another fun way to keep your brain engaged is to try a new hobby or pick up an old one you have not tried in a while. Something like writing or knitting has the bonus effect of helping you improve your manual dexterity while your brain stays engaged because you are actively creating something.
If you have trouble remembering certain words, try playing word games like listing every word that rhymes with a beginner word or trying your hand at some Sudoku puzzles. Your brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised, just like everywhere else in your body. Make sure that you give your brain the time and stimulation it needs to recover.
Play A Game
We referenced how common it is for people to experience some loss of manual dexterity after a stroke, but there is a fun way to work on it. Board games often include using your fingers to pick up small pieces and move them across the game board. Additionally, card games require even more dexterity to hold the cards, shuffle them, and pick them up individually.
Whether you play solitaire on your own or pull down that old Risk game for you and your family, playing games frequently is an exciting way to regain your manual dexterity that is a lot more exciting than just repeating a few exercises every day. Plus, this is a great way to connect with your loved ones and thank them for helping you during your time of need.
Join A Support Group
Sometimes, it is just nice to know that you are not alone. Having a support system is vital when it comes to recovering from a severe illness like a stroke. When you can count on your friends and family, that is beyond incredible. However, you have to remember that they have their own lives too, and you do not want to be a constant burden.
That is why support groups exist. If you need more than your loved ones can provide, a support group is a great place to make friends and learn about new coping mechanisms that have worked for other people. Besides learning some new tips and tricks, being able to tell your story to people who understand what you went through can be a powerful experience.
If you start to feel down and no one around you is giving you the right answer, do not get impatient with them. Most people have no idea what kind of fear, pain, and frustration is involved in recovering from a stroke. Instead of taking your frustrations and anxieties out on your loved ones, talk to people who have been exactly where you are now.
Be A Card Carrier
For people who have difficulty speaking and communicating their feelings or ideas after a stroke, it might seem silly, but you should carry a card with you whenever you go out. That card should have your name, explain your situation, and list a contact number on there. If you are ever out alone and cannot communicate, that card will tell someone whom they should call to help you.
For other people, it can be helpful to carry around multiple cards that have simple words or phrases written on them. If you find yourself unable to speak and getting frustrated, it is nice to be able to pull out your deck of cards and select the one that best conveys your meaning. Things like “yes,” “no,” “I need help” are all useful phrases to enhance your communication.
Talk To A Therapist
Your mental wellbeing is just as, if not more important than your physical wellbeing. Having a stroke can take a severe toll on you, and it is not uncommon to develop severe anxiety or PTSD after going through such a traumatic experience. If you are experiencing nightmares, panic attacks, severe anxiety, feelings of helplessness, lethargy, or depression, you should talk to a therapist.
You should be sure to mention that you have recently suffered a stroke because those symptoms might be related to your current medications. If those are adjusted, the symptoms might lessen. In addition, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications might be able to help you too. However, some people just want to feel like someone is listening, and that is where a therapist excels.
Have A Nap
If you are really exhausted, there is no shame in taking a nap. In fact, most adults are envious of kindergarteners who have nap time scheduled into their daily activities. If you are recovering from a stroke, you should not have to make excuses for yourself when you need a nap. Listen to your body. When it tells you that you need some sleep, take a nap.
When you wake up refreshed and rejuvenated, you can go back to doing what you had planned on during that time, and you will have better luck concentrating and moving around when your body has had the rest it clearly needs.
In a similar vein to having patience with yourself, learning deep breathing exercises can go a long way towards relieving your anxiety and frustration with your newfound limitations. Whether or not the stroke has brought on additional anxiety, everyone experiences some level of fear after a stroke, and meditating can bring you back to a calm state of mind.
Additionally, meditation is geared explicitly towards putting your mind in touch with your body. Sometimes, your brain’s signals can misfire after a stroke, and meditating can help you regain control over your body. Learning to breathe deeply and concentrate on one idea at a time can also improve cognitive abilities and improve your mood.
If you want to combine the meditation idea with a little bit of movement, look for modified yoga classes or positions online. While traditional yoga requires quite a bit of core body strength and flexibility, there are usually ways to modify the positions so that you can focus on clearing your mind and improving your balance.
Having a stroke might seem like the end of the world, but there is life after. It may be a long road to recovery, but you will not know until you start working on it. No matter what suggestions from this article you put into practice, stay positive. Your optimism is the most powerful tool that you have to regain your former abilities, and you should never lose sight of that.