How Can I Regain Hand Function After a Stroke?

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Many stroke survivors notice that the hand takes the longest to recover after a stroke. This may become very frustrating for many. However, there are two main techniques and exercises that can help speed the recovery of the hand up!

  • Repetitive hand exercises: Repetitive hand exercises are the most important step to hand recovery after a stroke. An occupational therapist will provide exercises that will strengthen the overall wrist, hand and fingers. It is important to perform these exercises as prescribed. Repetitive exercises are important in order to retrain your brain after a stroke, which we know based on the theory of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire itself by finding alternative pathways for the area of the brain that was damaged secondary to a stroke. In order for the brain to rewire itself, it is important to perform repetitive movements.
  • Consistent exercise program: Consistency AND dosage are both important for lasting change to take place in an individual’s range of motion, coordination and timing. Repetition, consistency and high levels of engagement are often cited as key determinants in successful stroke rehabilitation.

NEOFECT has created two devices that work great in order to promote consistent repetitive upper extremity exercises. Usually after a stroke, one will notice that they will regain the use of proximal muscles (the shoulder) before the distal muscles (hand and fingers). Therefore, it is recommended that one would start with using NEOFECT’s Smart Board to address the shoulder and elbow.

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The Smart Board takes the weight off of the user’s affected arm and focuses on repetitive functional shoulder and elbow movements in order to increase overall range of motion, coordination and timing through reach retraining activities in a virtual reality world. The Smart Board provides therapeutic gaming activities that simulate activities of daily living as well as some fun innovative games that mimic movement patterns which are used in activities of daily living.

Once one has gained shoulder and elbow range of motion and strength, they usually will start to notice some return in their wrist and overall hand movements. Therefore, it is then recommend to use NEOFECT’s Smart Glove. The Smart Glove is lightweight and portable, and can be taken anywhere, along with the 10 inch mobile tablet it connects with. The Smart Glove is a biofeedback tool that was created based on the theory of neuroplasticity.

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The Smart Glove helps create a lot of repetition in a fun and engaging way. Each of the activities encourage hand and wrist movements that are needed for daily life activities, so you can work to getting back to your old self.

Research has shown that utilizing the Smart Glove and Smart Board 5 times per week for at least 30 minutes per session has increased users upper extremity function as well as overall quality of life. Therefore, consistency is key!

Another way to address hand function after a stroke is performing mirror box therapy. Mirror box therapy has been shown to help address hand function in stroke survivors. Mirror box therapy exercises are done by placing a mirror box in front of a stroke survivor covering their affected limb. They then perform repetitive movements with their unaffected limb while watching their reflection in the mirror. By doing these exercises in the mirror it will give their brain the impression that they are moving their affected limb. With time it will help rewire the brain and increase range of motion in the affected limb.

Utilizing electrical stimulation can also help jump start the process of regaining function in your hand after a stroke. Electrical stimulation therapy consists of taking electroids and attaching them on to the skin over a muscle. Once the electrical stimulation unit is activated it sends electrical currents to the muscle, causing it to contract. Sending these electrical currents to the muscle and forcing the muscle to contract repetitively will in short help the brain to create new neuro pathways, which will in turn allow for muscle re-education. This happens through neuroplasticity. Research has shown that In order to see the best results with electrical stimulation therapy, you should combine it with massed practice of repetitive functional exercises.

In summary, in order to regain hand function after a stroke it is very import to perform consistent and repetitive upper extremity exercises. It is key to get on a routine that you enjoy and can maintain!

Becky Alter
Clinical Manager / Occupational Therapist

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