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Can You Regain Hand Function After a Stroke?

We all know our hands are extremely important and we depend on them for everything. But it’s only after something happens to our hand function do we realise just how much we depend on finger mobility and dexterity.

Questions about hand function and walking are the first two we get from the majority of our patients with stroke.

So can you regain hand function after stroke?

Short answer: Yes! You can. But it depends on a few key factors which we explain below.

Long answer: Keep reading!

Understanding Stroke and Its Impact on Hands

Our hands, just like the rest of the body, are controlled by the brain.

Signals are dispatched from different areas of the brain, travel down the spinal channels and reach the hands. Some of these are motor signals, which are related to movement and function. The other type is sensory signals, which are related to the five senses of touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste. 

For example, when you hold an object in your hands, the sensors in your joints and skin sense the weight and dimensions of the object and send those signals to the brain. The brain then sends signals to the muscles to contract just enough to move that object in whichever direction you need or for however long.

All that happens in milliseconds.

During a stroke, parts of the brain are deprived of blood, oxygen and nutrients. The resulting damage can affect various functions such as mobility, sensation, coordination, ability to feel textures, temperature, or pain depending on the stroke’s location and severity. The brain either can’t send signals to the rest of the body or the signals are all messed up.

Now, when you try to hold an object, the brain can’t signal the fingers to open up or close to grip, or steadily move the hand or arm. That’s why you can’t hold objects, can’t feel touch properly or sense temperature differences, and so on.

A stroke can cause hand weakness, loss of coordination, numbness, tingling or difficulty in performing everyday tasks. It’s crucial to address these challenges early on to enhance recovery and regain function.

Usually, if the right side of the brain is affected, you’ll experience symptoms on the left side of the body.

Can You Regain Hand Function After a Stroke?

Yes. The brain can form new neural connections. This is known as neuroplasticity. And it’s central to recovering hand function after a stroke.

When parts of the brain responsible for hand movement are damaged, other areas can sometimes take over those functions, but this requires targeted rehabilitation to encourage and strengthen new pathways.

Understanding the science behind how a stroke affects hand function can help you realise the importance of targeted physiotherapy and rehabilitation. You can work towards regaining hand function and improving your overall quality of life after a stroke by focusing on physiotherapy exercises and therapies designed to improve strength, coordination, and sensory perception. These exercises help your brain and hands communicate again using new paths.

The process requires practice, patience, and consistency.

Remember, everyone’s recovery from a stroke is different. Some might see quick improvements, while others need more time. But with steady work and the right exercises, you can regain your hand function.

Physiotherapy Tips to Regain Hand Function After Stroke

After attending to hundreds of stroke patients and helping them regain mobility and independence, I’ve identified a few things that almost always do wonders for regaining hand function after a stroke.

Here are 3 of those things:

  1. Start rehab ASAP.
  2. Make exercises a part of your routine.
  3. Use assistive devices for the time being.

I’ve talked about them in detail below.

1.   Start Hand Physiotherapy As Early As Possible

The earlier you start rewiring your brain and training the new communication pathways between the brain and your hand, the quicker the recovery will be.

The time immediately after a stroke to about 12 months presents a critical window during which targeted rehabilitation can make a substantial difference in outcomes.

A 2021 clinical trial found that stroke patients who begin intensive hand rehab around the second or third month after a stroke had the highest regain in hand function compared to those who started intensive rehab 30 days or 6 months after their stroke.

Here are some key drawbacks of postponing hand physiotherapy at home:

  • Reduced potential for recovery: Remember neuroplasticity from above? Well, this ability decreases over time so the earlier you can try forming the new pathways, the better.
  • Slower progress and longer recovery time: When rehabilitation is delayed, progress can be significantly slower once it does begin. This can extend the recovery time and require more effort and resources to achieve gains that could have been more easily attained with earlier intervention.
  • Increased risk of permanent disability: Without timely intervention, muscles and joints in the hand may develop contractures which are permanent tightening of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. That can lead to stiff, immobile joints that severely limit hand function. This can result in permanent disability, making everyday tasks and self-care significantly more challenging.
  • Development of secondary complications: Prolonged inactivity or improper use of the affected hand can lead to secondary complications such as muscle atrophy (wasting away of muscle mass), spasticity (muscle stiffness), and pain.
  • Psychological impact: The psychological impact of losing independence and struggling with daily tasks can be massive. Delaying physiotherapy can worsen feelings of frustration, depression, and anxiety, making the overall recovery process more difficult, both emotionally and physically.

2.   Incorporate Hand Exercises into Your Daily Routine

The more you can practise, the better it’ll be to strengthen the new brain and hand pathways. You only have limited time with the physiotherapist. So, the best thing to do is incorporate your exercises into your routine.

And that’s simpler than you might think.

Expert physiotherapists like us know how to seamlessly blend the exercises into the rhythm of your day without requiring significant extra time or effort. We learn about your routine activities, goals, and capacity and then design exercises with your input.

Here’s one practical example of incorporating hand exercises to regain hand function after a stroke quickly:

The “Towel Twist” Exercise for Grip Strength and Dexterity

Objective: Strengthen grip and improve dexterity and coordination of the fingers and wrist.

When to Do It: During your morning or evening routine, such as when you’re drying your hands after washing them, or while doing dishes.

How to Do It:

Choose a small, manageable towel, like a hand towel or a dish towel. Grip it with both hands, keeping it taut. If one hand is weaker, ensure it has a secure grip, even if it means supporting it with the stronger hand initially. Twist the towel as if you’re wringing out water. The action should come from the wrists. Do it for as long as is comfortable.

Why It Works:

  • Convenience: It fits naturally into daily tasks, requiring no special equipment beyond a common household item.
  • Functional strength: This exercise mimics the motion of wringing out, which is not only great for building grip strength but also enhances the functional use of your hands in daily activities.
  • Engages multiple muscle groups: The exercise works various muscles in the hands, wrists, and forearms, improving overall hand function.

3.   Use Assistive Devices and Technology

I know, you may not want to use any assistive devices because they are constant reminders that your hand function is compromised.

But I recommend using such devices for as long as they help without becoming too dependent on them. For example, you can wear a splint at night only to maintain the progress you’ve made in finger range of motion by doing hand physiotherapy at home during the day.

Modern technology and simple assistive devices can play a huge role in hand recovery post-stroke. They can retrain your muscles and nerves to remember their old skills and learn new ones.

A wide range of assistive devices and technology is available in London to support hand therapy after a stroke.

These tools are designed to enhance rehabilitation, improve function, and encourage independence. Here are some notable examples:

1. Hand Splints and Braces

Remember contractures from above? It’s a very common complication of stroke.

Hand splints and braces support weak muscles, align joints, prevent contractures, and facilitate the correct positioning of the hand and wrist.

You can wear these devices throughout the day or night to maintain proper alignment and prevent overextension of muscles.

2. Grip Strengtheners

As the name indicates, these improve grip strength and dexterity in the fingers and hand.

They can be adjusted for resistance, and you can use them at home or on the go. These make it easy to incorporate strengthening exercises into your daily life.

3. Electronic Stimulation Devices

These stimulate muscle activity and prevent atrophy in the affected hand.

Devices such as neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) units can activate nerves and muscles, promoting strength and movement when your voluntary muscle control is diminished.

4. Virtual Reality (VR) and Gaming Systems

These provide engaging and interactive ways to practise hand movements and tasks.

VR systems and specially designed video games can offer repetitive practice of specific hand movements in a fun and motivating way, contributing to improved motor skills and coordination. You can even try doing your work-related activities such as construction, typing, driving and more.

5. Sensorimotor Training Tools

You can use tools like textured balls, pegboards, and adaptive utensils to practise daily living skills, improving sensory perception and fine motor abilities in a functional context. They can enhance sensory feedback and fine motor control.

Healthcare provider recommendations, insurance coverage, and personal budget are some factors that dictate access to these assistive devices and technologies in London. Working with a physiotherapist or occupational therapist can help determine which tools are most appropriate for your specific needs and goals in hand therapy after a stroke.

Interested in reading some success stories? Hear from our patients to get hope for your recovery.

Read the success stories of our stroke patients so you can imagine a positive future for yourself.

FAQs About Hand Physiotherapy in Stroke Recovery

Does Physical Therapy Work on Hands?

Yes, hand physiotherapy focuses on improving strength, flexibility, and coordination. It’s possible to see significant improvements in hand function through tailored and targeted exercises and techniques.

How Often Should You Do Hand Therapy at Home?

The frequency of hand therapy sessions can vary based on individual needs. Consistency is key, and a physiotherapist can create a personalised plan that fits into your lifestyle and recovery goals. Most of our patients in Eltham, Battersea and Norbury, need about 3 visits a week for hand physiotherapy at home and daily exercises at home to see quick and significant improvements.

What Does Hand Physiotherapy After Stroke Look Like in London?

In London, hand physiotherapy after a stroke is comprehensive and tailored. Our programs are designed to fit into your lifestyle, with a focus on practical exercises and the use of technology. Book an appointment to learn more or visit our social media pages to watch videos of our hand physiotherapy for stroke patients.

Book Your Hand Physiotherapy Appointment in London

Ready to give your recovery a helping hand?

At Clearcut Physiotherapy in Eltham, we’re all hands on deck to support you on your journey back to complete hand function.

One too many hand puns?

With the right support, you can regain independence and get back to doing the things you love. Let’s join hands in your recovery journey.

That’s the last one, I promise.

Click on the button below to book a physiotherapy appointment with our experts in Eltham, Battersea or Norbury.