Many stroke survivors experience functional problems with their arm and hand, even after an intensive rehabilitation program. Of course, you need a lot of therapy, but it’s also important to do exercises yourself. We’ve selected the top 7 tips for making your arm and hand training regime as effective as possible.
1. Focus on the affected arm by limiting and avoiding movements with the healthy side
Research shows that patients who only train with their affected side show more improvement in their arm and hand function. Often you really have to restrain the healthy side of your body to prevent it from helping the affected side (because that’s what typically happens). This special form of therapy is called constraint-induced movement therapy. And it is exactly what it sounds like. One side is constrained so that the affected side has to do the work.
2. Look in the mirror
Many studies have reported the positive effects of mirror therapy. It is a simple technique that you can do at home, once a therapist has shown you how to do it. The mirror gives you the impression that the affected arm performs the same movements as the healthy arm, and this can have a therapeutic effect. Ask your therapist how to set it up at home and what exercises will be best for you. Find out more about mirror therapy.
Imagination can be an effective tool in rehabilitation. Even if you cannot perform an arm or hand movement the way you want to, you can still picture yourself doing it correctly. If you visualize it, your brain is activated as if you are actually doing the movement. So train as hard as you can and assist your training by mentally imagining the entire movement. Find out more about how mental imaging works.
4. Repetitions, repetitions, repetitions…
So you thought a few repetitions per exercise were all you needed? This may be true for improving your strength, but when it comes to improving your movement control, repetitions are everything. Make sure you exercise a certain movement as often as you can. Research tells us that therapies with a lot of repetitions are more successful than the ones with only a limited amount.
5. Use both your arms
We know we just said you should constrain your unaffected arm to force your affected arm to move, but there is an exception. If you are doing really tough strength exercises, you may want to include your healthy arm as well. By helping in the movement, the healthy arm can activate the affected arm and increase its strength. Also training your healthy arm right before you attempt a heavy load with the affected arm can help increase your strength.
6. Train your strength with movements
You can create a force in different ways: holding your arm still while applying resistance or moving your arm against resistance. There is evidence that actual movements against resistance are more effective for your arm and hand strength. So move and feel those muscles flex!
7. Use your entire arm
Exercises that make use of your entire arm and even shoulder are the best ones to build general strength. Pushing against a wall while standing and extending your arm, for example, requires lots of arm muscles to flex and coordinate. This can really make your arm stronger.
Try putting some of these tips into practice to improve your arm strength. You’ll start seeing a difference!