Why does my arm still move on its own?

Last year when I had my stroke, I was getting ready for work and I yawned. As I did so, my right hand raised by itself and my fingers dug into the palm of my hand so hard it hurt, I remember looking at my hand and thinking "I'm not making you do that ! What's going on?" 

When I finished my yawn my arm fell down by my side and I didn't know that I couldn't move it yet. I was going to get up to get my coat but collapsed on the floor, still didn't realise what was happening because I couldn't see my face. Long story short, spent three nights in hospital, managed to pass the test of making a brew and a piece of toast with one hand, came home with no movement in my left arm whatsoever. I eventually got movement back in my fingers when the physiotherapist put electric shock things on them. Now I can move my whole arm but can't trust it to do anything on its own. It hates being cold and bunches itself up when I am out in cold weather.

The weirdest thing is, now, when I yawn, my hand raised up by itself. At first it freaked me out because I thought I was having another one but I suppose I'm used to it now. I also can't yawn without making a little noise, it's only mildly embarrassing.

Does anyone else have anything like this? Or do you know why my arm raises by itself? It must be connected to the stroke somehow, musn't it?

I am more or less fully recovered from my stroke apart from the fatigue aspect. However when I stretch in bed my left leg bends up unless I think to stop it. It seems something is rewired in my head, the best I can come up with is watching a baby learning to walk.

Hello Julie 12345,

I'm no medical expert but from my own experience, it seems that a lot of reflex-type actions are performed by a combination of our brains and our spine. Your brain coordinates most of your movement but your spine will do its own thing if it thinks your brain isn't working correctly

This is both good and bad to we Stroke survivors: try not to be embarrassed by it - it's just the new you. My sneezes rival Concorde in terms of a sonic boom but people accept it now.

Reflexes are good in that they can be used to stimulate new movement when part of you seems paralysed - I used this as part of my leg recovery, hitting the reflex point below my knee thousands of times a day to jerk my lower leg. That, plus Physio soon had me standing unsupported.

Reflexes are not so good when they cause spasticity - that's a response of your spine when it sees the brain has lost control - muscles tighten, your affected arm may move into a strange clasp in front of your chest, your affected leg will curl up towards your chest

These are the two extremes: good and bad; and somewhere in the middle are the exaggerated movements such as your yawn arm, my sneezes and people jumping out of their skin to loud noises.

Any or all of these can be made worse by us being tired, unwell or under some form of physical stress, which is why your arm is affected by the cold.

I hope this all makes sense.  It will improve significantly in time.

Take care now,


Julie, I can identify with everything you say. My stroke was nearly four years ago. As my brain rewired itself I had a lot of involuntary movements in my weak left leg. After some physio on my arm, it decided sometimes that it would like the shoulder to rise and lift it. None of this worries me. I just think it amazing that the brain can do things without my permission.

I was told quite early on that the leg and foot recover faster than the arm and hand because they perform less complex functions. This has certainly been the case with me. Recently, I asked for more physio on my arm and shoulder. This is because I have what feels like a frozen shoulder, despite being able to move my arm and hand. Even with physio, the feeling of heaviness has not gone away. This is because our arms hang  from our shoulder, but our brain and shoulder muscles do not treat them as 'weights'. My arm was also jerking a lot. Over the last seven months the arm and hand have become more stable, despite my still feeling heaviness in my shoulder.

Like you, my weak arm and hand get cold quite easily, so I often put a glove on the weak hand but none on the other. Nor do I trust my weak arm and hand. Things dig into the hand and it is quite sensitive to that, but I do not trust it to hold anything very much. It can manage a paper, but certainly not a mug of coffee and, so far as glassware is concerned, I don't trust it a bit. It is improving, but very slowly.

All part of the post stroke journey.

Yes, it is amazing what our brains do.

I just don't know why it does it.  It was after physio that it started doing it, thanks for reminding me!

Well, I did not know that your spine takes over if it thinks the brain is wrong!

Aren't our bodies wonderful! ??

Is 5 months after my stroke too late to expect some movement in my arm?

I am no doctor, but I would say five months is still early on. The brain can and does re-wire itself, but we don't know when, where and how. The first thing that moved on my affected arm were the fingers. That happened after six weeks. The arm took longer. One physiotherapist told me 'remember the leg and foot improve faster than the arm and hand because they perform less complex actions'. 

When my leg started to improve it did so by involuntary spasms. My brain sent signals to my leg and foot and they would jerk up without me having any say in the matter. At night I had to put my good leg over my left leg in bed to get some sleep, otherwise I'd have been kicking my leg up all night like a Tiller girl.

When my fingers started working I got terrible pain in them at night because I wasn't moving them. There are all kinds of exercises for fingers and hand that help improve them when they move. The other good tip I had was to use the left arm and hand as much as possible. In the beginning this leads to all sorts of accidents but t works.

Recovery from stroke is very slow. Stroke is a brain injury not an illness, so there is no quick fix. It might make matters worse to brood about it. I only know that I'm still working to improve things five years on.

Dear Jane

NO ! Your brain will be fishing around for two years. And even then, its never too late for recovery.

so keep moving that arm and think positively.

also smile

you are not alone


Thanks xx