How Neuroplasticity helps in Stroke Rehabilitation

After a stroke, certain parts of a survivor’s brain can be damaged (depending upon stroke type). This results in few functions becoming impaired as they were once held in earlier healthy (but now damaged) parts of the brain. Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rewire itself after injury, allows the stroke survivor’s brain to rewire functions that were once stored in these areas over to new and healthy parts of the brain. This is only neuroplasticity that helps a patient, whose right arm was impaired after stroke, is able to lift the affected arm. The healthy area of the patient’s brain is now capable of picking up the slack and taking on the task of moving the right arm.

Since the precise timing between diagnosis and initiating rehabilitation is important, few ongoing studies have pointed out that starting rehabilitation as early as 24 hours after the stroke is highly effective.  

Importance of Repetition in Neuroplasticity

To initiate Neuroplasticity in the injured brain, more repetition and task specific practice is needed. The best stroke rehabilitation therapies exploit how Neuroplasticity works by using repetitive positive experiences to forge and strengthen pathways in the brain. The more the survivor repeats and practices an activity, the stronger new pathways in his brain become. The patient can make the most of the recovery by continuously using the affected parts of the body in everyday life. It’s also important for the survivor to keep using a skill after re-learning it.

Constraint Induced Therapy

Physical exercise has one of the most significant effects on Neuroplasticity as it can stimulate the connections in the Central Nervous System (CNS). The most commonly used and neuroplasticity-based therapy is the Constraint Induced Therapy (CIT). This kind of therapy involves limiting the movement of the non-affected arm (stronger arm) and using the affected arm (weaker arm) more commonly and strongly.

Motor Movement Visualization & Bi-manual Exercises

Studies have shown that stroke patients, who visualize motor movements through mental imagery, alongside other conventional treatments experience speedy recovery. This has been commonly suggested that stroke survivors should be taught to mentally visualize and practice an activity to improve motor functions, particularly arm movement. Here, the objective is producing new neural pathways to compensate for the damaged ones, in order to promote neuroplasticity. Bimanual exercises and Lower-limb treadmill exercise (body-weight support) have also been shown to be effective for CNS’ plasticity.

Speech, Language, and Occupational Therapy

During the natural brain recovery, it is very important to challenge the survivor’s physical and mental abilities so that new areas take over for damaged ones in the brain. This is why physical therapy, speech-language therapy, and occupational therapy are so important for accelerating stroke patient’s recovery process. To take full advantage of brain plasticity, speech-language therapists train the survivor’s brain by practice to make him relearn his speech and language skills.

Virtual reality therapy (VRT) has been used as a powerful tool in psychological or occupational therapy. Patients receiving VRT navigate through digitally created environments and complete specially designed tasks, which are tailored to treat stroke. Robot assisted therapy is an emerging technique to work by way of neuroplasticity.