Stroke is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many people, it is a life-altering event. Caused by decreased blood flow to your brain, a stroke often causes weakness or paralysis on one side of your body, making daily tasks difficult. Occupational therapy is one facet of stroke rehabilitation and is a key component of recovery of physical abilities after stroke. Occupational therapists employ several techniques to assist people after stroke, focusing on use of the upper extremities and daily activities.
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Weakness after stroke can diminish mobility in your hand. Occupational therapists use hand-splinting techniques to reduce tightness, improve range of motion and reduce pain after stroke. A hand splint may first be applied while you are in the hospital to reduce risk of contractures -- a condition in which fingers get "stuck" in a bent position, leading to hygiene issues and skin breakdown. Depending on your needs, splints may be pre-made or custom-molded by your therapist out of thermoplastic materials. Splints may be worn temporarily until you regain use of your hand, or permanently if your hand function remains limited.
Exercise is a major component of rehabilitation after stroke. Occupational therapy typically focuses on arm exercises to increase range of motion, joint flexibility and muscle strength. Early on, you may need physical assistance from your therapist to help move your affected arm. As strength improves, exercises are made more challenging with dumbbells and strap-on wrist weights. Upper-body cycling may also be used to increase endurance as well as range of motion in your affected arm.
Self-care activities are often difficult after stroke. Occupational therapists teach you how to groom, shower, use the toilet, eat and get dressed as part of rehabilitation. Specific treatment techniques are chosen based on your ability to use your affected arm. Adaptive equipment such as sock aids, long-handled shoe horns and shower brushes, reachers and self-wiping wands are often used to help you regain self-care independence.
Activities of Daily Living
Occupational therapy promotes independence with other activities of daily living. Cooking, laundry and cleaning tasks are often included in rehabilitation after stroke. Safety techniques, such as installing grab bars in the bathroom and removing throw rugs, are implemented to improve your function at home. Your therapist may also help you with organization and daily scheduling if you experience memory issues or confusion as a result of your stroke.