What is the recovery timeline after a stroke?

Dr. Stalp doing an eval with a patient and parent

Stroke recovery is a long and ongoing process full of ups and downs. For many people who have had a stroke, going home, returning to work and driving again are attainable goals. 

Take Travis’ story, for example. His right side was paralyzed after a stroke that left him unable to walk or talk — just a few weeks before his wedding day. After rehabilitating in our programs at Ability KC, Travis can walk independently, drive on his own, and talk without using an assistive device. 

This article covers the different phases you may go through in your unique recovery timeline and provides some detail about the types of therapy you’ll need.

What is the stroke recovery timeline like?

It’s difficult to give a general answer because each patient’s stroke recovery timeline is different. Some recover in as little as a few weeks, and others may take a couple of years to fully recover or adjust to any remaining effects of their stroke. 

Stroke recovery begins with life-saving treatment and creating a plan to treat any underlying conditions that may have played a part in causing the stroke. Patients begin rehabilitation within the first week after a stroke, and the most rapid rehabilitation will happen during the first three months. Patients may need to start with very basic things like learning to speak, swallow and move affected limbs before advancing to therapies for daily activities. Much of this recovery will happen in therapy, but a lot of it will take place at home, too. 

The average stroke recovery timeline

Again, every patient’s stroke recovery journey is different. Some will need several different types of therapy to regain feeling and movement on the affected side of their body. Some may not recover all the abilities they had before the stroke, but it is possible for some to make a full recovery.

Getting back to work is one of the biggest concerns for many individuals who have had a stroke. The process to get people connected with specialized vocational rehabilitation used to take six to eight weeks when we first started offering these services. Through our return to work program, we’re now able to get it down to one to three weeks.

Here’s a bit more detail on what each phase of your stroke recovery timeline could look like:

  • In the hospital

After the stroke is successfully treated, you’ll begin with physical therapy treatments to determine how your abilities were affected. A stroke may have cognitive and emotional effects in addition to physical limitations, and many people feel fatigued or have trouble sleeping. Your treatment team at the hospital might include a neurologist, physical therapists, occupational therapists, a speech-language pathologist, a psychotherapist and other specialists. 

After you’ve had one stroke, your chances of having another stroke increase. Treating the cause of your stroke and other risk factors becomes very important.

  • The first week

You and your care team will develop a discharge plan during the first few days after the stroke. They’ll recommend further treatments and therapies depending on the abilities that were affected and how you’re recovering. 

If you can move well enough to do most activities of daily living (ADLs) or if you have a support person who can help you, you should be able to leave the hospital within the first week after a stroke. 

There are several different options for continuing with rehabilitation after discharge, and you can work with a social worker at the hospital to find the best next steps for your abilities. Inpatient rehabilitation offers intensive acute care for patients who can do three hours of rehabilitation each day. For those who need intensive care but can’t tolerate much therapy yet, a skilled nursing facility may be the best option. People who anticipate needing long-term custodial care may go to a skilled nursing facility with rehabilitation therapists.

  • The first three months

Rehabilitative therapy doesn’t end when you go home from a treatment facility. When you’re able to go home, you’ll still have either home-based therapy, an intensive day therapy program or outpatient stroke rehabilitation therapy. This is the period when most patients can recover most rapidly. The sooner you can start doing intensive therapies, the better your recovery outcomes will be. 

Each stroke patient in our programs works with an integrated team to develop a personalized rehabilitation plan. This team can include you and your family, physical therapists, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a case manager, a social worker, a registered nurse, a certified nurse aide, an educator (for school-age children), a rehabilitation psychologist, and a neuropsychologist.

The therapies you receive during these critical three months may include:

  • Speech therapy — This can help you relearn to use your mouth, tongue and jaw for things like talking and swallowing.
  • Physical therapy — This type of therapy helps with strength, flexibility and range of motion.
  • Occupational therapy — OT is about using fine motor skills to do everyday activities.
  • Aquatic therapy — Aquatic therapy takes pressure off your joints while creating strength-building resistance.
  • Assistive technology training — We can help you learn to use any devices you’ll need to communicate.
  • Individual counseling — A stroke can have a big psychological impact. Get care to help with depression and emotion regulation.
  • Support groups — Talking with other stroke patients is a powerful type of therapy in itself.
  • Group treatments — Our outpatient programs help stroke patients connect with each other while developing skills and learning together.
  • Months three to six

If you haven’t left an inpatient treatment facility by this point, you’ll probably be able to go home within these three months. After discharge, you may continue to see a vascular neurologist, a primary care physician and a psychotherapist. You may need to spend some more time in an outpatient program, or you’ll have some exercises to keep practicing at home.

  • One year after the stroke and beyond

Stroke recovery is an ongoing process. As you become more independent, staying healthy is an important part of keeping your risk of another stroke to a minimum. Some people who have had a stroke make a full recovery by the one-year point, and others may still have limited mobility. Rehabilitation often includes learning to use assistive technology like a walker or a cane. Finally, staying in touch with a community of other stroke patients can help you feel socially connected and supported. Even after you finish an Ability KC program, we’re here to be a resource whenever you need help.

Get help recovering from a stroke at Ability KC

If you or a loved one is recovering from a stroke, we’re glad you found us. Ability KC is certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as a Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility (CORF) and has been internationally accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) for over 50 years. That means we are committed to quality improvement, focusing on the unique needs of each person we serve, and monitoring the results of services. We are passionate about delivering the highest quality in services that you deserve. We’ve helped people like Travis and Dottie reach their rehabilitation goals, and we can help you too.

Ready to learn more? Take a look at our stroke rehabilitation services page or download a PDF of our full stroke specialty service scope. You can learn more about the types of insurance we accept and our admissions process online.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact our team anytime. When you’re ready, we can help you schedule an evaluation.