OBJECTIVE: To observe the ipsilateral upper limb function after stroke comparing proximal with distal part and to determine how they recover after stroke. METHOD: Cohort study of 72 patients with stroke in the middle cerebral arterial territory undergoing multidisciplinary stroke rehabilitation program. The main outcome was assessed by the Manual Function Test (MFT) for upper limb function, weekly. RESULTS: The recovery time of the ipsilateral upper limb to maximum function was 32.4+/-15.4 days. The functions of the ipsilateral shoulder and hand after stroke decreased significantly. Even at the maximum recovery, complete recovery was not seen. For ipsilateral shoulder, more severe functional deficits were seen with subcortical lesion than with cortical lesion, whereas for ipsilateral hands, no difference was seen between them. CONCLUSION: Therefore, the fact that recoveries of the shoulders and hands were different according to the presence of cerebral cortical or subcortical lesions suggests that the brain structures that control these areas or the recovery mechanisms might be different.