Stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted, causing brain cells to die. Stroke can cause a variety of symptoms like weakness, paralysis, speech difficulties, memory loss, cognitive problems, and emotional changes.
Physical therapy is an important part of recovery from a stroke that aims to help stroke survivors regain their functional mobility and independence. PT helps stroke survivors stimulate damaged nerves and muscles, promote circulation to affected areas of the brain to promote healing, learn to move and use their affected body parts as much as possible, regain mobility and strength, as well as to prevent or reduce complications such as muscle stiffness, spasticity, pain, and falls.
Physical Therapy After Stroke
Physical therapy usually begins as soon as possible after the stroke, ideally within two days. The duration and intensity of PT depend on the severity and type of stroke, the medical status of the patient, as well as the individual’s goals and needs.
Stroke recovery doesn’t just involve a physical therapist, though. It takes a team of professionals, including a physiatrist (a doctor who specializes in rehabilitation), a neurologist (a doctor who specializes in brain and nervous system disorders), nurses, an occupational therapist, a speech-language pathologist, a dietician, a social worker, a neuropsychologist, and a case manager.
The physical therapist will assess strength, balance, coordination, range of motion, sensation, pain, and functional abilities. Based on the assessment and the individual’s goals, the physical therapist will design a personalized treatment plan that may include interventions like:
- Exercises to improve muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility
- Activities to improve balance, posture, gait and mobility
- Training to use assistive devices such as walkers, canes or wheelchairs
- Education on how to prevent falls and injuries
- Manual therapy to relieve pain and spasm
- Electrical stimulation to activate muscles and nerves
- Biofeedback to enhance awareness and control of muscle activity
- Hydrotherapy to use water resistance and buoyancy for exercise
- Constraint-induced movement therapy to encourage use of the affected limb by restricting the unaffected one
- Mirror therapy to use visual feedback to stimulate movement of the affected limb
Physical therapy after stroke can take place in different settings. It usually starts in a hospital. The survivor may then move thought a subacute care unit and/or an inpatient rehabilitation unit before being discharged home. The person will then usually receive home health therapy or continue treatment in an outpatient clinic depending on their level of function and needs. The physical therapist will work closely with the stroke survivor and their family to determine the best path for their rehabilitation, and to ensure continuity of care.
The Benefits of Physical Therapy After Stroke
Physical therapy has lots of benefits for stroke survivors, such as:
- Improving functional mobility and independence
- Enhancing quality of life and well-being
- Reducing disability and dependence on others
- Increasing self-confidence and motivation
- Preventing or minimizing complications such as contractures, pressure sores or infections
- Reducing the risk of recurrent stroke or other cardiovascular events
Physical therapy after stroke can also have positive effects on the brain itself. Research has shown that physical activity can stimulate the growth of new brain cells, formation of new connections between brain cells and growth of new blood vessels in the brain. These processes can help with healing and recovery after stroke.
Physical therapy after stroke is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires individualized assessment, planning and evaluation. It also requires active participation and collaboration from the stroke survivor, their family, and their caregivers. Stroke recover is a long-term process that requires patience, perseverance, and dedication.
However, physical therapy can be rewarding and empowering for stroke survivors. It can help them regain their functional mobility and independence, improve their quality of life and well-being, prevent or reduce complications and make the most of their recovery.
HARTZ Physical Therapy offers comprehensive outpatient neurological and stroke PT. Learn more about our stroke services HERE.
(1) Rehab Therapy After a Stroke | American Stroke Association. https://www.stroke.org/en/life-after-stroke/stroke-rehab/rehab-therapy-after-a-stroke.
(2) Physiotherapy after stroke | Stroke Association. https://www.stroke.org.uk/what-is-stroke/physiotherapy-after-stroke.
(3) Stroke rehabilitation: What to expect as you recover. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/in-depth/stroke-rehabilitation/art-20045172.
(4) A Simplified Guide To Physical Therapy For Stroke Patients – Saebo. https://www.saebo.com/blog/a-simplified-guide-to-physical-therapy-for-strokes/.
(5) Home-Care Physical Therapy for Stroke – Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/home-physical-therapy-after-stroke-4587362.
(6) PT working gait after stroke | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19588381/
(7) PT working gait with cognitive impairment | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33204533/
(8) Physical Fitness for Stroke Patients | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32196635/
(9) Physical rehab for stroke patients in low income countries | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30508495/
(10) Evidence in PT poststroke | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3913786/
(11) Encompass Health Stroke Rehab | https://encompasshealth.com/locations/harmarvillerehab/our-programs/stroke?gclid=CjwKCAjwuqiiBhBtEiwATgvixC72lg7PEmPp6djOG1qWQfUt_vU4kRkmqK8EBO6T1gWU78QjkHze0BoCYvoQAvD_BwE
(12) Physiopedia – Stroke Rehab | https://www.physio-pedia.com/Stroke:_Physiotherapy_Treatment_Approaches
(13) APTA – PT Guide for Strokes | https://www.choosept.com/guide/physical-therapy-guide-stroke