Stroke is one the leading causes of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when blood carrying oxygen is unable to get to part of the brain which has the potential to damage or kill brain cells and affect several parts of the body after the event is over. Warning signs of a stroke can include difficulty speaking, trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, loss of balance or coordination, severe headache, and numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body.
According to the American Heart and Stroke Association, approximately 795,000 people each year experience a new or recurrent stroke. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65.
Starting immediate treatment for a stroke can not only help save lives but reduce debilitating effects that can result such as muscle weakness, foot drop, spasticity, muscle stiffness, and/or paralysis to parts of the body.
The majority of post-stroke effects tend to be physical and can leave one struggling to perform everyday activities. This is why it’s important for a stroke survivor to immediately engage in a stroke rehabilitation program in order to improve long-term outcomes from stroke damage and improve one’s quality of life.
Depending on what areas of the body and brain were affected by a stroke, a stroke rehabilitation team of exerts will devise a customized recovery plan to target areas of weakness. This plan may include a variety of frequent therapies that can include occupational, physical, speech, and various stroke recovery exercises to help a patient maximize his/her functional independence.
Occupational therapy can help stroke recovery patients to redevelop lost skills or improve performance of activities of daily living such as eating, bathing, dressing, personal care, meal preparation, and home management. Physical therapy can further rehabilitative efforts through an exercise program that can increase range of motion for affected areas. Speech therapy focuses on speech, language, and communication issues for stroke recovery patient but can also be beneficial for those who may develop difficulty swallowing or eating.
Most stroke rehabilitation programs will begin in the hospital as the patient is recovering before switching to an outpatient rehabilitation setting. Paralysis in a particular part of the body is a common side effect of stroke. Certain rehabilitative exercises can help a stroke survivor regain motion in the affected areas. Such exercises can include but are not limited to:
- Wrist curls that will help strengthen the forearm and hand.
- Table circles is an arm exercise to improve strength and promote neuroplasticity. By clasping your hands together and rotating them in front of you in a churning motion, the strong arm can help lead the weaker arm and increase its strength and flexibility.
- Sitting and standing seems like a relatively easy function we take for granted but being able to sit in an upright position while slowly standing all the way up can strengthen your core, legs, and improve balance.
- The use of elastic bands can provide resistance for strengthening and can be done either standing or sitting. For those who have a weakened arm, the use of a wrist cuff can help those who cannot grip the elastic band firmly in their hands. Elastic bands can be used on both the arms and the legs.
- Seated extended leg raises can be beneficial for those who are in a wheelchair. Adding ankle weights can increase strengthening for those who can tolerate the extra weight.
- Knee raises – or seated marching – is another great exercise that also be done in a seated position.
- Knee squeezes can be done by taking a firm ball, placing it between the knees while squeezing and relaxing. This will work the inner thigh muscles.
- Aquatic therapy can offer multiple benefits including less pain during stroke rehab. Patients who have limited physical endurance on land are able to submerge in warm water that provides vasodilation of the blood vessels, which improves circulation and reduces swelling while allowing for increased movement.
When possible, make sure you are positioned in a way where your weaker arm or leg is bearing the brunt of the weight and doing the work.
Other functional and practical exercises that can continue to be done in home outside of the rehabilitation setting are recommended for a speedier recovery and can also include:
- Writing or drawing to increase functionality in the hand and fingers
- Picking up small objects like coins
- Cutting with scissors
- Picking up a bowl or cup and placing it down
- Folding or rolling a towel
- Leaning your affected arm on a table and placing weight on it (may require assistance)
In addition, innovative technology such as the VitaGlide®, can provide resistance technology that simulates the motions of skiing and/or rowing with a push-pull or push together-pull together range of physical activity. Simultaneously, it also can increase your heart rate providing the user with aerobic exercise and cardiovascular conditioning.
Overall, stroke rehabilitation exercises can result in maximized functional independence and safety for patients to return to a fuller and more purposeful life.