How Long Is Stroke Recovery?

Stroke recovery – also called stroke rehabilitation – is different for everybody. How long it takes depends on the part of the brain affected by the stroke and how severe the stroke was. Some people recover quickly and completely, and for some people it is a long journey.

man exercising and recovering from a stroke

During the first few weeks after the stroke, rehabilitation is focused on regaining activities of daily living.

© andresr | Getty Images

According to the Mayo Clinic, stroke recovery can include recovery of movement, speech, swallowing, strength, emotional health, and the basic activities of daily living. Stroke recovery begins in the hospital and continues at a stroke rehab facility or at home with outpatient therapy.

The exact type of therapy is different for everyone and depends on what types of disabilities were cause by the stroke. These may include:

  • Paralysis or weakness
  • Trouble with mental abilities, called cognitive disability
  • Trouble speaking or swallowing
  • Numbness or pain
  • Bowel or bladder incontinence
  • Mental health, especially depression

Treating these disabilities takes a team of health care providers that include medical doctors, neurologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and mental health providers.

Stroke Recovery Stages

Stages of stroke recovery are used by physical therapists to decide the best type of therapy for people with paralysis or weakness. These stages do not apply to other stroke disabilities. Not everyone will make it through these stages towards normal movement. The stages of movement recovery are:

  • No ability to move part of your body affected by the stroke, called no voluntary movement
  • Movement that comes back but is jerky and poorly controlled, called spasticity
  • More voluntary control of movement
  • Return of more movement and control without spasticity
  • Loss of spasticity
  • Return to normal movement

Learn the signs of a stroke to receive the help you need when a stroke occurs.

Stroke Recovery Time

The stroke recovery timeline begins as soon as possible, sometimes on the first hospital day. A stroke care team evaluates the effects of the stroke and the type of therapy and therapists that will be needed. Together they develop a stroke rehabilitation plan. Therapy sessions may occur up to six times during an average hospital stay of five to seven days.

During the first few weeks after the stroke, rehabilitation is focused on regaining activities of daily living. Depending on the plan, this time may be spent in a rehabilitation facility or at home with outpatient rehabilitation.

The first three months after a stroke are the most important time, when most of recovery will occur. During this time there can be spontaneous recovery that is independent of physical therapy. This is causes by recovery of brain cells due to return of blood supply, called reperfusion.

After six months, most recovery is complete although there may still be some recovery for a year or more. Mental health disability is common in the year after a stroke. One-third of people will suffer from depression after a stroke. Studies show that depression is 70 percent higher after a stroke than a heart attack.

About 50 percent of people will still be left with significant disability. Stroke is the number one cause of severe disability for Americans. For these people, stroke recovery includes a lifetime of adjusting to their disabilities and learning to make the best of the abilities they still have.

Long Term Recovery for All Stroke Survivors

One of the greatest dangers for all survivors is the risk of a repeat stroke. One in four strokes are recurrent. There are about 800,000 strokes in the U.S. every year and about 200,000 are repeat strokes. The good news is according to the American Stroke Association, up to 90 percent of these can be prevented with medications and lifestyle changes. Medications may include blood thinning medication, blood pressure medication, and statin drugs to reduce bad cholesterol. The CDC, advises these as the most important lifestyle changes:

  • Working with health care providers to control blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol
  • Not smoking and using alcohol only in moderation
  • Eating a heart healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight with diet and exercise appropriate for your ability

For more on strokes, purchase the Cleveland Clinic Annual Report on Strokes.

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Chris Iliades, MD

Dr. Chris Iliades is board-certified in Ear, Nose and Throat and Head and Neck Surgery from the American Board of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. He holds a medical … Read More

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