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Physical Therapy & Stroke Recovery

A stroke happens when blood flow to your brain is decreased or stopped. Many people need physical therapy following a stroke to help improve their ability to move and become more independent.

Depending on where in your brain the stroke occurs, it can affect many parts of your body. More than 40% of stroke survivors have trouble with movement or other neurological functions.

Physical therapy, also sometimes known as physiotherapy, is one of the main rehabilitation therapies used to decrease disability and improve movement after a stroke. During physical therapy, your therapist uses treadmill training, strengthening, and a variety of other techniques to help you improve your movement.

In this article, we examine how physical therapy can help you recover from a stroke and what you can expect during your treatment.

How does physical therapy help people who have had a stroke? 

Undergoing physical therapy can potentially help you regain:

  • strength

  • mobility

  • coordination

  • balance

  • proprioception (your sense of self-movement)

Research from 2017 suggests that doing intensive physical therapy shortly after a stroke is associated with decreased death rates and reduced complications. People who undergo continuous professional therapy tend to recover rapidly.

Physical therapy can help you regain movement patterns such as:

  • walking

  • sitting

  • lying down

  • standing

  • getting out of a chair

What will physical therapy include?

Physical therapists use different techniques to help you recover. These include:

  • task-oriented training, where you go through real-life motions, such as getting up from a chair

  • strength training using weights, your body weight, or bands

  • walking or balance training

  • treadmill training

  • constraint-induced movement therapy, where your strong arm is constrained so you’re forced to use your weak arm

  • electrical stimulation to activate the nerves of your injured muscles

  • virtual reality or video game tools

  • biofeedback, which aims to help you gain control over your mind-body connection

  • aquatic therapy, where you do exercises in the water

In addition to helping you regain lost movement, your physical therapist can also:

  • fit you for braces, a wheelchair, or other mobility aids

  • teach you how to use these mobility devices

  • provide training to your family or caregiver

How long do you need physical therapy after a stroke?

If you’re in stable condition, you may be able to start physical therapy as soon as 2 days after your stroke.

According to the National Institutes of Health, adding intensive motor rehabilitation after 60–90 days to your standard rehab therapy may help improve outcomes.

The duration that you need to do physical therapy depends on the severity of your stroke and your level of disability. You may need to do physical therapy for months to years.

The most rapid recovery usually occurs within the first 3–4 months.

Typically, you’ll do several sessions per week.

Physical therapy is an important part of the rehabilitation process for many people who have had a stroke. It can potentially help you improve your recovery and minimize your disability.

During physical therapy, a therapist uses a variety of techniques to help you regain your ability to move, such as strengthening exercises, treadmill training, or having you perform everyday activities.

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