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Answer transcribed from Brightway's interview with Dr. Cristen Gordon (pt.1):
This is a big question and normally when there is a brain injury, specifically if we're talking about a stroke hand and arm, the return comes after the leg. It's a little bit slower than the leg and the foot return as far as muscle recovery and function. Activities and exercises that are going to challenge your brain to re-engage those pathways are the first steps. Oftentimes when working with patients, patients will get frustrated because they say “I can't do it, my arm's not moving, I'm trying to move it”. What happens is even though you may not be moving your arm right away, your brain is making connections every time you do it. Whether it's restoring the original pathway or it's finding new pathways, your brain is learning how to do it. Oftentimes we've seen where the patient had days of not being able to bend their elbow and then all of a sudden, they wake up and say “oh I can bend my elbow” because they were trying to make those connections and the brain finally got it.
That being said, it can still be frustrating because arm recovery can be slow. The best exercises are trying to figure out the function. Let's pick a function that we're trying to work on, that might be something like getting dressed. You think about getting dressed, that's a big task. We then have to break it down and ask “how can we engage the right arm to help in this process?” That might just be holding the shirt, getting your arm into the sleeve, or pulling the shirt down. Depending on your function, we have to build on what you have.