Some of your muscles may be very weak in the aftermath of a stroke. That can make it frustratingly difficult to get up from a chair, for example, or do other everyday tasks.
Strength training can help you to build stronger muscles. But it has to be done in careful, targeted ways to ensure that stronger muscles translate into easier movements.
How Neurological Conditions Affect Your Muscles
Damage to your neurological system can weaken your muscles.
Your brain commands your muscles to activate but, if you’ve had a stroke or other neurological difficulties, those instructions may not get through.
There’s also secondary loss of muscle strength because you’re probably less active or less coordinated than you used to be. Weak muscles make it harder to move so you probably move less, which weakens your muscles further.
It’s a vicious cycle. Strength training may help you break out of it.
What is Strength Training?
Strength training (also known as resistance training) builds your muscles by making them work against something. You could do that by lifting weights, using your own bodyweight, or pushing your way through the water in hydrotherapy.
Strengthening is an important part of any fitness routine. It’s particularly important as you get older because muscle bulk and bone density will naturally decline unless you deliberately maintain them.
Some people do strength training simply because they know it’s good for them. Others do it with a certain goal in mind, such as to improve their performance in their favourite sport.
Strength Training for Neurological Conditions
Strength training for neurological conditions tends to be done with a particular goal in mind – to help you move more easily.
Research shows that people with neurological conditions can increase their muscle strength considerably by regularly doing repetitive exercises. One study explored the findings of 11 different clinical trials of stroke patients doing progressive resistance training. The average patient gained 50% more strength in the muscles they’d been training.
That’s impressive. And yet, most people didn’t get any better at walking despite being stronger.
That’s because moving is complicated and requires more than strength alone. Your brain has to activate those muscles, coordinate your movements and fine-tune in response to information from your senses.
It’s not only about training your muscles. It’s about rewiring your brain.
Rewiring Your Brain for Improved Strength and Movement
You probably have a favourite route to the shops – a route you’ve taken so many times that you could probably get there blindfolded. But one day, your usual route is blocked by roadworks. You’re forced to take a different route, paying attention at each junction to ensure you get to your destination. Those roadworks continue for many weeks, forcing you to take the alternative route to the shops routinely now. And so that route becomes familiar and easier. You know where you’re going now.
Your brain is a bit like that. It has a preferred way of telling your muscles what to do. That neural pathway is now blocked as a result of neurological damage due to stroke, for example. So, your brain has to learn a new way of activating your muscles, just like you had to find a new route to the shops.
This is the amazing science of neuroplasticity, the idea that your brain is adaptable and can be retrained to overcome the effects of injury or illness.
The best way to stimulate your brain to rewire itself is through repetitive movements. Regularly doing repeated exercises forces your brain to get used to a new way of doing things.
When you combine a retrained brain with stronger muscles, you’re most likely to see improvements in your movement.
How Neurospace Can Help
Strength training for neurological conditions requires a skilled therapist who:
- Sets up the test position in an optimal way
- Tests your muscle strength properly, identifying problems at different parts of its range or with different types of contractions
- Accounts for other issues such as coordination, spasms, muscle contracture, and sensory loss
- Understands how muscle weakness affects movement in terms of the range and type of muscle activation required
- Manages weight loading and repetitions to account for varying muscle fatigue in different conditions.
At Neurospace, we focus on helping people with complex movement difficulties due to neurological conditions. We know how to help you gain muscle strength and retrain your brain at the same time with the goal of improving your movement.
Please come and see us for an accurate assessment and advice on how best to integrate good strengthening activities into your routine.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.