Dr. Karen Barr

Recovery from a stroke doesn’t end when a patient leaves the hospital or a rehabilitation facility – it’s an ongoing process that can take a while. But there are things you can do that will make a big difference in your overall function and quality of life after a stroke. WVU Medicine Physiatrist Karen Barr, MD, provides important tips for stroke recovery.

1. Neurological healing takes time and hard work.
Most of us are pretty familiar with how long it takes to bounce back from a pulled muscle or the common cold, but healing from a neurological injury, like a stroke, takes a lot longer. In some cases, the brain is able to create new neurological pathways to resume mental and physical functions after a stroke, but like a lengthy construction project on a highway, it’s a slow process that requires patience and dedication. We typically advise patients that it takes a year, and sometimes even two years, to reach the full amount of neurological recovery that may occur after a stroke.

2. Stroke prevention medications are key.
Upon leaving the hospital, a WVU Stroke Center provider will prepare you with medications to help prevent another stroke. Depending on the type of stroke that occurred and what caused it, patients are usually prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins and drugs that reduce the risk of blood clots, such as aspirin or blood thinners. Blood pressure medication may also be needed if hypertension is a concern as it is a common cause of stroke. You are greatly reducing your chances of another stroke by consulting with your doctor and taking these medications long term if necessary.

3. A rehab specialist can help you take steps toward recovery.
If you’ve suffered a stroke, it does not mean you have to give up all leisure activities, like being a good grandparent or enjoying events in your community. A stroke rehabilitation specialist is skilled in the full-spectrum of stroke-related health issues, and we can be your partner in helping you work your way back to the life that you love. We will develop a stroke rehabilitation plan that works for your needs and your individual condition, and we’ll celebrate with you through each step toward recovery.

4. A physiatrist can address your physical and emotional needs.
A physiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, including neurological and musculoskeletal problems. A physiatrist can assist you with pain, weakness, or disability that impacts your independence. Adaptive devices, injections, medications, therapeutic exercises, and cognitive therapy may be used to treat your condition.

Here at WVU Medicine, we have two physiatrists who specialize in stroke rehabilitation: Myself and Bethany Honce, MD. A WVU Medicine physiatrist is dedicated to providing you with a wide range of treatment options aimed at your recovery as a whole person by addressing your physical, emotional, and social needs.

5. Assistive equipment may be needed temporarily.
After a stroke, you may need a walker, a brace, or other equipment. A stroke rehabilitation specialist can provide you with the most useful and best equipment possible. Also, as your function improves, less cumbersome options, like a smaller brace or a cane, may work better for you. Assistive equipment can begin to wear out or fit poorly over time, so be sure to let your provider know about any changes.

6. Exercise is important, even after a stroke.
We all need to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day whether you’ve had a stroke or not. This can be particularly challenging if you’ve had a stroke. But exercise reduces your risk of other medical problems, decreases your risk of falls, boosts your mood, and increases your strength and function. Talk to a WVU Medicine physiatrist or physical therapist who can help you develop an exercise program that best suits your personal stroke rehabilitation.

7. Tell your doctor about any medical symptoms that occur.
Having a stroke does not protect you from having other medical problems unfortunately. Be sure to tell your provider if you experience any new signs or symptoms, so you can receive the proper evaluation and treatment. These are some of the most common issues that may occur after a stroke:

  • Spasticity: A stroke survivor may develop an involuntary spasm or tightness in any part of the body affected by a stroke, which is called spasticity. This can be uncomfortable and often interferes with sleep and function. Spasticity changes with time and can become more bothersome in the months after a stroke. Treatments, such as medications and injections, can help, so seek care from a stroke rehabilitation specialist to see what may be most beneficial for you.
  • Pain: Sometimes, a stroke itself can cause pain, but pain after a stroke is more commonly caused by tendonitis, arthritis, or other age-related conditions that become aggravated as you try to exercise weak muscles. Treatment for pain is possible and can bring significant relief. Make an appointment to develop a treatment plan with a WVU Medicine provider today.
  • Depression: Depression after stroke is very common. It is caused by a combination of factors, including the brain injury itself, a reaction to living with the consequences of a stroke, and the social isolation that often occurs after a stroke. Fortunately, this is not something that you have to cope with on your own. Treatment is available, and a stroke rehabilitation specialist can help.

8. Attend a WVU Medicine stroke support group.
The WVU Stroke Center offers a forum for education and peer support. You can also participate in some stroke support group meetings from the comfort of your own home via smartphone or computer. To learn more, contact Angela J. Schaffer at 304-293-1795 or schaffera@wvumedicine.org.

Can we assist you with stroke rehabilitation? Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE.