The recovery of skilled hand use after cortical injury was assessed in adult squirrel monkeys. Specific movement patterns used to perform a motor task requiring fine manual skill were analyzed before and after a small ischemic infarct (2.6-3.8 mm2) to the electrophysiologically identified hand area of the primary motor cortex (M1). After 1-3 weeks of pre-infarct training, each monkey stereotypically used one specific movement pattern to retrieve food pellets. After injury to the hand area of M1, the monkeys were required to retrieve the pellets using their impaired forelimb. Immediately after the injury, the number of finger flexions used by the monkeys to retrieve the pellets increased, indicating a deficit in skilled finger use. After approximately 1 month of rehabilitative training, skilled use of the fingers appeared to recover, indicated by a reduction in the number of finger flexions per retrieval. The monkeys again retrieved the pellets using one specific movement pattern in most trials. Despite the apparent recovery of skilled finger use after rehabilitative training, three of five monkeys retrieved the pellets using stereotypic movement patterns different from those used before the injury. Thus, this study provides evidence that compensatory movement patterns are used in the recovery of motor function following cortical injury, even after relatively small lesions that produce mild, transient deficits in motor performance. Examination of electrophysiological maps of evoked movements suggests that the mode of recovery (re-acquisition of pre-infarct movement strategies vs development of compensatory movement strategies) may be related to the relative size of the lesion and its specific location within the M1 hand representation.