Damage to the motor cortex of the rat (Rattus norvegicus) impairs skilled movements used in reaching for food with the contralateral forepaw. Nevertheless, there is substantial recovery in success over a two-week postsurgical period. The profile of behavioral recovery is believed to reflect the eventual normalization of behavior, but this idea has not been explicitly examined. The present experiments examined postsurgical reaching success and reaching movements as a function of (1) lesion type, (2) lesion size, (3) lesion location, (4) depletion of forebrain noradrenaline, and (4) presurgical and postsurgical experience. The results show that at least two separate processes contribute to recovery in postsurgical performance. The early postsurgical period was characterized by extreme difficulties in making reaching movements. The experiments suggest that this initial impairment was due to the loss of the innate cortical engram that supports the action patterns used for skilled movements. Subsequent recovery in reaching success was not due to the reacquisition of normal movements, but was due rather to the use of compensatory movements. The results are discussed in relation to the idea that true recovery from motor cortex injury will require that damaged neurons and their connections be rescued or replaced.