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Stroke Recovery Window May Be Wider than We Think

Case study shows one man’s function improved after 23 years

Bethesda, Md. (July 12, 2017)—Stroke survivors may experience delayed recovery of limb function up to decades after injury, according to a new case study. The article, published ahead of print in the Journal of Neurophysiology, was chosen as an APSselect article for July.


The subject of the study is a man who suffered a stroke at age 15, leaving his left hand nonfunctional even after a regimen of physical therapy. Twenty-two years after the stroke, the man started swimming regularly after his doctor suggested it to lose weight. One year later, the man was able to move his left fingers in a limited capacity. He returned to physical therapy for several years and improved his recovery to the point of picking up small objects with his left hand.


Researchers in London, Ontario, Canada, performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while the man flexed his fingers. They found that the nerve cells that control sensation (sensimotor neurons) on both sides of the brain had reorganized more than two decades after the stroke, leading to regained function. The research team suggested that a combination of physical activity and his young age when the stroke occurred might explain the late recovery. The man had previously regained function in his shoulder and elbow; the increase in activity seen with swimming may have provoked the reorganization of the sensimotor neurons. “The marked delayed recovery in our patient and the widespread recruitment of bilateral areas of the brain indicate the potential for much greater stroke recovery than is generally assumed,” the researchers wrote.


The paper, “Motor Recovery Beginning 23 Years after Ischemic Stroke,” is published ahead of print in the Journal of Neurophysiology. It is highlighted as one of this month’s “best of the best” as part of the American Physiological Society’s APSselect program. Read all of this month’s selected research articles on the APSselect website.


NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: To schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact the APS Communications Office or 301-634-7209. Find more research highlights in the APS Press Room.

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents more than 10,500 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.



Cortical Nerve Function in Former Amputees Remains Poor Decades after Reconstructive Surgery

Released April 11, 2017 - Researchers have found that the nerve cells (neurons) controlling sensation and movement of the hands show injury-induced changes for years after hand amputation, reattachment or transplant. The small study, the first of its kind to non-invasively explore the health and function of the cortical neurons (neuronal integrity) in these populations at the neurochemical level, is published ahead of print in the Journal of Neurophysiology. The manuscript was chosen as an APSselect article for April.

Arm Exercise Improves Walking Ability after Stroke

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