Early Therapy

It is particularly important to start out with NR procedures at a patient’s earliest convenience in order to minimize long-term effects.

E.G. stroke rehabilitation is the process by which those with disabling strokes undergo treatment to help them return to normal life as much as possible by regaining and relearning the skills of everyday living. It also aims to help the survivor understand and adapt to difficulties, prevent secondary complications and educate family members to play a supporting role.

A rehabilitation team is usually multidisciplinary as it involves staff with different skills working together to help the patient. These include physicians trained in rehabilitation medicine, clinical pharmacists, nursing staff, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, and orthotists. Some teams may also include psychologists and social workers, since at least one third of the people manifest post stroke depression. Validated instruments such as the Barthel scale may be used to assess the likelihood of a stroke patient being able to manage at home with or without support subsequent to discharge from hospital.

Good nursing care is fundamental in maintaining skin care, feeding, hydration, positioning, and monitoring vital signs such as temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. Stroke rehabilitation begins almost immediately.

For most people with stroke, physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT) and speech-language pathology (SLP) are the cornerstones of the rehabilitation process. Often, assistive technology such as wheelchairs, walkers and canes may be beneficial. Many mobility problems can be improved by the use of ankle foot orthoses.PT and OT have overlapping areas of expertise, however PT focuses on joint range of motion and strength by performing exercises and re-learning functional tasks such as bed mobility, transferring, walking and other gross motor functions. Physiotherapists can also work with patients to improve awareness and use of the hemiplegic side. Rehabilitation involves working on the ability to produce strong movements or the ability to perform tasks using normal patterns. Emphasis is often concentrated on functional tasks and patient’s goals. One example physiotherapists employ to promote motor learning involves constraint-induced movement therapy. Through continuous practice the patient relearns to use and adapt the hemiplegic limb during functional activities to create lasting permanent changes.OT is involved in training to help relearn everyday activities known as the Activities of daily living (ADLs) such as eating, drinking, dressing, bathing, cooking, reading and writing, and toileting. Speech and language therapy is appropriate for patients with the speech production disorders: dysarthria and apraxia of speech,aphasia, cognitive-communication impairments and/or dysphagia (problems with swallowing).

Patients may have particular problems, such as dysphagia, which can cause swallowed material to pass into the lungs and cause aspiration pneumonia. The condition may improve with time, but in the interim, a nasogastric tube may be inserted, enabling liquid food to be given directly into the stomach. If swallowing is still deemed unsafe, then a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube is passed and this can remain indefinitely.

Treatment of spasticity related to stroke often involves early mobilizations, commonly performed by a physiotherapist, combined with elongation of spastic muscles and sustained stretching through various positionings. Gaining initial improvement in range of motion is often achieved through rhythmic rotational patterns associated with the affected limb. After full range has been achieved by the therapist, the limb should be positioned in the lengthened positions to prevent against further contractures, skin breakdown, and disuse of the limb with the use of splints or other tools to stabilize the joint. Cold in the form of ice wraps or ice packs have been proven to briefly reduce spasticity by temporarily dampening neural firing rates.Electrical stimulation to the antagonist muscles or vibrations has also been used with some success.

Stroke rehabilitation should be started as quickly as possible and can last anywhere from a few days to over a year. Most return of function is seen in the first few months, and then improvement falls off with the “window” considered officially by European rehabilitation units and others to be closed after six months, with little chance of further improvement. However, patients have been known to continue to improve for years, regaining and strengthening abilities like writing, walking, running, and talking. Daily rehabilitation exercises should continue to be part of the stroke patient’s routine. Complete recovery is unusual but not impossible and most patients will improve to some extent: proper diet and exercise are known to help the brain to recover.

Some current and future therapy methods include the use of virtual reality and video games for rehabilitation. These forms of rehabilitation offer potential for motivating patients to perform specific therapy tasks that many other forms do not. Many clinics and hospitals are adopting the use of these off-the-shelf devices for exercise, social interaction and rehabilitation because they are affordable, accessible and can be used within the clinic and home.

Other novel non-invasive rehabilitation methods are currently being developed to augment physical therapy to improve motor function of stroke patients, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) and robotic therapies.

A stroke can also reduce people’s general fitness. Reduced fitness can reduce capacity for rehabilitation as well as general health. A systematic review found that there are inadequate long-term data about the effects of exercise and training on death, dependence and disability after a stroke. However, cardiorespiratory training added to walking programs in rehabilitation can improve speed, tolerance and independence during walking.