You’ll have a variety of medical experts on your post-stroke team.
A stroke can be very scary and emotional. After the stroke, there may be a long period of recovery. Many people experience long-term effects of stroke, such as difficulty walking, talking, and eating. Some people may need help with this recovery and may benefit from stroke rehabilitation.
Stroke rehabilitation is a program that helps manage the recovery of a stroke under medical professionals. There are different phases of stroke rehabilitation, and the process may take months.
Who is involved in stroke rehabilitation?
Strokes can affect the body in many ways. Your long-term symptoms depend on where in the brain the stroke occurred, as well as how long the stroke went untreated. As a result, each person’s stroke rehabilitation may look a little different.
The medical professionals who may be involved in stroke rehab include:
- Physical therapists
- Occupational therapists
- Speech therapists
- Social workers
- Rehab nurses
- Physiatrists (doctors who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation)
How does stroke rehab help you regain independence?
Three major components of stroke rehabilitation are physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.
Physical therapy helps you regain coordination, balance, movement, and strength. You may need to relearn skills for walking, climbing stairs, or using certain limbs. The goal is for you to be able to navigate your home and other spaces with less help from others.
Speech therapy helps you regain your communication skills. You will work on speaking, but also comprehension when others are talking. This can help you maintain the relationships that are important to you and continue to participate in your social circle.
Another lesser known part of speech therapy is working on swallowing skills. It’s common to have difficulty swallowing after a stroke, and a speech therapist can actually help with this. This can improve your ability to eat on your own or with less assistance. It's also obviously important to help you get the nutrition you need.
Occupational therapy helps you regain the fine motor skills that are necessary for everyday living. For example, an occupational therapist can help you with skills like:
- Getting dressed
- Using the bathroom
- Using a computer
- Cutting and preparing food
- Caring for a pet
How long does rehab take?
To put it simply, stroke rehabilitation takes as long as it needs to take. Being patient is important. That’s because it may take months to reach your goals after a stroke, and the progress may seem slow at times.
Your first few weeks are not a good representation of what your recovery will be like. You may seem to have very poor function in the beginning, but progress tends to occur in the months that follow. You might also have “spontaneous recovery,” which is when you suddenly regain certain skills that you lost after the stroke.
Where can I find these programs?
Strokes are common, and many hospitals have some type of stroke rehabilitation program. Talk to your doctor about what resources and programs are available in your community.
Laura Beck, MS, PT, is the Vice President of Rehabilitation at St. Charles Hospital.