Monday, July 31, 2017

Better movement through beer.

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When you build a house you want to build a strong foundation. When it's a tree grows, it doesn't grow from the leaves inward, it grows from the seed outward. For every process of growth, there is a beginning, a foundation, a germinal point.

What is the foundation for movement after stroke? If you ask most therapists they will say it is trunk (torso) control. 
Trunk Control

Focus on trunk control is the analog to building a good foundation for a house. Trunk control, so the thinking goes, will provide a good foundation for the arms and legs to do their thing. 

Therapists will often continually talk about the trunk as being the most important foundational part of the movement. The way it is taught in therapy school is "proximal stability for distal mobility". And this idea-- to work from "the inside out" is not wrong per se. It's just not particularly right.

Some therapists obsess about the trunk. But what if we flipped it? What if the driver foundation of learning movement is the hand? Or the feet? But I actually don't think it is those, either.

The foundation of movement is the will of the mover.  
  • Mind: Expressed as intention (I want to do something)
  • Brain: Starts the movement (Expressed as an electrochemical command) 
  • Muscles: Move the limb (muscle contraction)
  • Hand: Expresses the original intention (grab a beer)
So the driver here is beer. Or sex. Or chocolate. The driver of motor (movement) control is the will of the person. The trunk will follow what the will decides.

Imagine an infant. They reach because they want something. There is no one there to hold them and they may be a little unsteady, but their intention to reach makes their balance better. 

The “will” of the hand drives the changes needed in the trunk. The trunk will learn, in a natural way, to get the hand where it needs to be. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Make the Home Exercise Program AWESOME!!

Years after stroke survivors have been discharged from therapy, recovery can continue.

Of course, the speed of recovery diminishes over time. There is no time that is quite as fertile as the period of natural recovery in the first few months after stroke. 

But recovery can continue. Stroke survivors should be encouraged to see discharge from therapy not as the beginning of the end, but as the end of the beginning. The baton of the conductor of the grand symphony of recovery is passed from therapists to survivor. 

Most of the time therapists will leave stroke survivors with little guidance for further recovery. Some therapists think “HEP” stands for “Hand ‘em photocopies.” Too often the HEP reflects nothing more than a watered down version of the exercises that were done in the clinic. 

Irony: The survivor is left with the same exercises that caused the very plateau that caused the discharge! 
A good home exercise program will help the survivor to continue making progress if it is started the day the therapist meets the survivor. Therapy itself can be part of the HEP. If the survivor and caregivers can see what goes into the basic concepts that therapists use all the time, they will be able to direct their own recovery long after they’ve forgotten your name. 

The HEP should explain:
--progression of exercise, 
--measuring and documenting progress, 
--tips on equipment needed for a home gym. 

Therapists: Your job is done. You would have liked more time with them, but this is all manged care has allowed. At least, you’ve helped them to be functional, safe and return home. 

Survivors: Your job has just doubled. Not only do survivors have to continue the quest towards recovery through their own efforts, but they have to do it without therapist's guidance. Leaving stroke survivors with the tools they need to continue the quest is critical helping them to be in the best position to reach the highest level of potential recovery.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Facebook Recovery

If you want great ideas for recovery, where do you find them? One of the best resources— I turn to it all the time for ideas— is the Young Stroke Survivors Global Network. Its a Facebook page chockablock full of suggestions, discussions, videos, links...

And lets face it... a lot of stuff on the web is either complicated or dubious:

Complicated: clinical research
Dubious: websites that exist to sell you something

Young survivors (young= willing and able to hyper-focus on recovery) come up with the best ideas. They're often educated and ambitious and willing to try to "push the issue." Thats where this Facbook group can help.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

“Pusher” Syndrome-- the neuroplastic model of recovery

Pusher syndrome (PS) is an altered sense of reality. 

Survivors with PS (sometimes known as "pushers") believe that they are sitting or standing “upright” when they are tilted approximately 18° towards the "bad” side. 

Therapists may be exacerbating pusher syndrome. When survivors with PS are forced to a “upright” they feel like they're leaning too far towards the "bad" side. “Pushers” react to this feeling by leaning towards the affected side. They see any attempt to get them truly straight as a serious threat that inspires fear. 

Another term for pusher syndrome is listing phenomenon. This may be a more accurate term because "pushers" only become "pushers" when they are pushed. Anyone who was shoved 18° out of balance would push back! There are other terms that have been used for PS including:
·       ipsilateral pushing
·       contraversive pushing
·       pusher behavior.

PS affects approximately 5% (although some estimates are as high as 50%) of all stroke survivors.

Survivors with PS have had damage to portion of the brain that controls the feeling of upright body posture. The area damaged is called the posterolateral thalamus. Loss of this area causes PS.


Balance is determined by 3 systems: vision, vestibular (inner ear) and proprioception. Patients with PS typically only have damage to one of the 3 systems: proprioception. Clinicians can help by directing patient focus to the balance systems that are still intact. Therapists can help pushers by helping them to attend to vertical visual cues. One technique involves having the therapist sit in front of the seated patient. Then use any visual cues available in the room, or the therapist’s own body (i.e. the forearm held vertically) to have the patient reorient themselves to true vertical. Carr and Shepard (reference below) suggest having the patient purposely, and within a safety-controlled environment, repeatedly reach for an object towards the hemiparetic side. The patient is then instructed to bring themselves back to visually confirmed true vertical. This simple technique hits on two basic concepts of the neuroplastic model; task specificity (reaching for an object creating a challenge to balance) and repetitive practice. The repetitive practice in this case is repeatedly reorienting to true vertical. Therapists can help pushers by teaching the necessary movements needed to realign to vertical. As is true with many of the recovery options that drive neuroplastic change, it is repeated self-correction that rewires the brain.

Pushers should be encouraged to hold a vertical position no matter what everyday task they’re doing. This incorporates another core concept in the neuroplastic model: massed practice. Therapists who encourage constant realignment to true vertical—in and out of the therapy gym—help the survivor mass their attempts at righting and equilibrium reactions.

Although certainly not proven, I would bet that the rewiring necessary to correct PS does not happen in the thalamic region—the region damaged in stroke survivors with PS. Using repetitive, task specific massed practice may instead force an enlargement and/or strengthening of the cortical representation of the intact vestibular and visual systems. 

Therapists can help PS patients by providing shepherding guidance on this necessary neuroplastic journey.

1. Karnath HO, Broetz D. Understanding and treating "pusher syndrome". Phys Ther.2003 Dec;83(12):1119-25. 
2. Shepherd RB, Carr JA. Response to Discussion Paper: New aspects for the physiotherapy of pushing behaviour, D. Broetz and H.-O. Karnath, Neurorehabilitation 20 (2005), 133-138. NeuroRehabilitation. 2005;20(4):343-5.  

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