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Physical Therapy for A Stroke – Information, Exercises, and More

You’ve recently had a stroke and now you’re trying to figure out life after a stroke and how to prevent one from happening again in the future. 

You’re not alone.

According to the Center of Disease Control, 795,000 people experience a stroke each year. 

Although post-stroke life can feel overwhelming, there are ways to overcome the hurdles, get back to doing every day activities and prevent another stroke from occurring. 

In this guide, we’re providing some of the most important information about the most common types of strokes, risk factors, treatment options, and more.

What Is a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying nutrients and oxygen to the brain… 

  1. Is blocked by a blood clot, or
  2. Ruptures

…resulting in an interruption of blood supply to the brain. 

Because of this, the brain cannot get the oxygen it needs so the vessel, and the brain cells, die.  When brain cells die, certain brain functions are lost.

What Causes a Stroke?

Because there are several types of strokes, the causes may vary based on the type. 

Three of the most common types of strokes are: 

  1. Ischemic Stroke: This type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel that supplies the blood within the brain is obstructed. This is the most common type of stroke. It accounts for 87 percent of all strokes.
  2. Hemorrhagic Stroke: Hemorrhagic strokes occur when blood vessels become weak and burst and blood spills into the brain or the area surrounding the brain. The cells that are usually nourished by the artery no longer get the proper supply of nutrients and cannot function. There are two main types of hemorrhagic strokes that refer to the affected parts of the brain: 
    • Intracerebral hemorrhages are the more common type of hemorrhagic stroke.  During this type of stroke, an artery in the brain bursts, flooding the surrounding brain tissues with blood.
    • Subarachnoid hemorrhages are less common but occur when there is bleeding between the brain and the tissues that cover it.
  3. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): This type of stroke has the same origins as an ischemic stroke. The difference is that this type of stroke involves a blockage that is only temporary and no permanent damage occurs.

A TIA is typically a warning sign that a future stroke may happen and is considered a medical emergency, as with any other stroke.

Stroke Risk Factors

Who is at risk for a stroke? 

Certain factors may put you at higher risk for having a stroke, some of these factors are preventable, while others you have no control over. 

Non-Modifiable Stroke Risk Factors

  • Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to have a stroke.  
  • Genetics: people with diseases like sickle cell disease, heart disorders, or valve defects, etc. are more likely to experience a stroke in their lifetime.  
  • Gender: According to the CDC women are more likely to experience a stroke than men.
  • Medical history: if you’ve had a TIA or a stroke in the past, you’re more likely to experience a stroke again.
  • Certain diseases: if you have diabetes, for example, you are at higher risk for having a stroke.  

Modifiable Stroke Risk Factors

Living a healthy lifestyle is one of the key steps to lowering your risk of a stroke.

Modifiable risk factors that can be lowered by making simple lifestyle changes include: 

  • Obesity
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Tobacco use
  • Being physically inactive
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Excessive stress
  • Diet

Stroke Symptoms

Stroke symptoms can happen over a matter or hours or happen rapidly, and brain damage can happen within minutes, which is why if you think you have symptoms of a stroke, you should call 9-1-1 right away. 

General Stroke Symptoms

Stroke symptoms vary based on several factors like:

  1. The type of stroke you’ve had
  2. Where in the brain the stroke occurs
  3. The intensity of the stroke/damage

But the most common symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Sudden weakness, numbness, tingling, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg—this symptom typically only occurs on one side of the body
  • Vision changes—dimmed, blurred, or loss of vision that worsens over time  
  • Confusion or trouble understanding speech
  • Trouble speaking or swallowing
  • Loss of balance—sudden falls with no cause or trouble walking 
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Headache

F.A.S.T Facts: Symptoms Telling You To Call 9-1-1

The American Heart Association and other experts use the mnemonic F.A.S.T. as a simple way for people to remember and recognize the typical signs of a stroke. 

  • Facial drooping: is one side of your face numb or drooping? Look in the mirror, when you smile, is it droopy, uneven, or lopsided?
  • Arm weakness: is one arm weaker than the other? Is it numb? When you raise your arms above your head, does one drift downward?
  • Speech difficulty: experiencing slurred or hard to understand speech? Are you unable to complete a simple sentence that others can understand?
  • Time to call 9-1-1: if you are experiencing or showing any of these signs/symptoms it is vital that you, or someone with you, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Stroke Treatment

Acting quickly can limit the damage done to your brain and increase your chances of a full recovery from a stroke. Call 9-1-1 if you think you may be having a stroke. 

Treatment for a stroke may start the moment you enter an ambulance or reach the hospital. 

Effective and fast treatment can save you from a lifelong disability and save your life; but the type of treatment you receive depends on the type of stroke you’ve experienced. 

Treatment for an Ischemic Stroke

After suffering from an ischemic stroke, your doctors will likely focus on restoring blood flow to the brain by removing the blockage—in this case, a clot. 

Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is the most commonly used treatment for ischemic strokes. This is a clot dissolving medicine that doctors try to administer within three hours of a stroke to give patients the best chance of full recovery. 

Other treatment options of ischemic strokes include: 

  • Antiplatelet medicines like aspirin
  • Thrombectomy a surgery done to remove a clot
  • Recovery treatments such as physical therapy or occupational therapy

Treatment for a Hemorrhagic Stroke

Hemorrhagic strokes must be treated differently than ischemic strokes due to bleeding caused by a burst blood vessel.

The first and most important goal of treatment is to control the bleeding and reduce the pressure on the brain. 

To achieve this, your physician may: 

  • Prescribe blood-thinning medications like aspirin 
  • Perform surgery to:
    • Relieve the pressure on the brain
    • Remove the blood or
    • Repair blood vessel problems
  • Refer you to specialists for recovery treatments like physical therapy, neurology, psychiatry, occupational therapy, even speech therapy

Physical Therapy After a Stroke – Will PT Help?

If you’ve suffered a stroke, physical therapy may be recommended by your doctor. 

Physical therapy exercises help stroke patients relearn everyday activities, restore physical function by treating problems involving… 

  • Movement
  • Muscle strength, 
  • Coordination and 
  • Balance 

… and help you regain a higher quality of life.

Almost everyone who experiences a stroke also experiences some physical side effects like:

  • Reduced stamina or endurance
  • Changes in muscle tone
  • Incoordination
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Altered sensation 

Lack of independence, wanting to do activities you love, or simply wanting to regain more strength after a stroke can feel frustrating. Physical therapy for stroke patients can help ease the side effects and frustrations—and improve your quality of life after a stroke.

Best Exercises to Help Stroke Recovery

Physical activity can reduce the risk of a stroke (or a stroke happening again) by up to 30 percent, but it doesn’t stop there. 

Exercise also improves the chances of you regaining function in affected areas after a stroke and prevent problems such as physical deconditioning and fatigue. 

The type of stroke physical therapy exercises your physical therapist will recommend will depend on what parts of the body have been affected. 

Movement Therapy

Movement therapy involves helping stroke patients relearn patterns of motion, like:  

  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Climbing stairs
  • Range of motion
  • Etc. 

These types of exercises may begin as early as 24 to 48 hours after a stroke. Your team of doctors will guide you on when and how to start these exercises. 

Aerobic Exercise

Part of recovering from a stroke involves staying active during the day. 

A sedentary lifestyle can lead to deconditioning, low energy levels, and increased triglyceride levels—which increases the likelihood of a stroke.  

One study found that stroke survivors who took part in exercise two to three times a week for as little as 30 minutes saw significant improvements in their aerobic abilities and how far they could walk in a short amount of time. 

After a stroke, any amount of increased endurance is a step in the right direction.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With A Stroke

Life after a stroke can be overwhelming. Many times rehabilitation can seem scary. 

As the #1 rated Physical Therapist on Yelp! In Motion O.C. and our Doctors of Physical Therapy are here to help make relearning everyday activities a little easier. 

Our team of professionals has helped hundreds of stroke patients take charge of their recovery.  Have you recently had a stroke and in need of physical therapy? Schedule a screening, today.

*This information about physical therapy for a stroke was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.