Physical Therapy After a Stroke: What to Expect and Necessary Supplies

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Tue Jun 13 2023.

Health provider helping woman lift weight.

Physical Therapy After a Stroke: What to Expect and Necessary Supplies

After a stroke, you may need to relearn skills, such as how to get dressed, brush your teeth, and bathe. This process can be slow and difficult, but physical and occupational therapy help. If you or a loved one recently had a stroke, you might wonder what stroke recovery entails.

To learn more about stroke rehab, we spoke with Mercedes Fernandez, a geriatric kinesiologist and the founder of Walk With Pop.

Why is Exercise an Important Part of Stroke Recovery?

“Movement is a fundamental part of being human. When we stop being physically active, our health takes a significant toll. For stroke recovery, the popular adage “movement as medicine” applies. Much like the saying, ‘If you don't use it, you lose it,’” Fernandez said.

“After a stroke one or more body parts can be hard to move depending on where the brain damage happened. Often, one side of the body experiences spasticity.  This means the muscles are in a consistent firing pattern causing them to  ‘contract’ as if they were in use. It takes time and patience to lessen the firing signals and relax the muscles.”

“Exercise can increase mobility and promote relaxation,” Fernandez said. “You might not be able to return to all your favorite activities, but you can regain your independence, strength, and self-confidence. At the end of the day, always remember that some movement is more beneficial than none.”

Do You Recommend Any Supplies for Post-Stroke Physical Therapy?

“Many physical therapists and occupational therapists assign home exercises to stroke patients. These are vital to recovery,” Fernandez said. “I would recommend purchasing a yoga mat if the exercises need you to be lying down.”

“Your therapist offers or loans you the appropriate equipment to support your rehabilitation. Any materials given or recommended to you will come from your PT or OT’s office. For example,  your therapist might recommend applying kinesiology tape before each session."

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How Should I Dress for Stroke Rehabilitation?

Prepare for stroke rehabilitation appointments like you would a trip to the gym. 

“Dress in comfortable closed-toed shoes and avoid sandals or slippers,” Fernandez said. “A loose T-shirt with pajama pants or sweats is appropriate. It's important you're able to move without restriction and that you’re comfortable.”

You may need manual therapy, like massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic care. So, Fernandez recommends always wearing pants instead of skirts, dresses, or shorts.

What Can I Expect at a Post-Stroke Physical Therapy Consultation?

“If you’re meeting with a PT or OT for post-stroke rehabilitation, congrats! You’re in the perfect place for recovery,” Fernandez said.

“Treatment starts with an intake visit. Your therapist gauges what you will need and how you can work together. You don’t need to feel nervous or self-conscious. Being as open and honest as you can be with your [physical] therapist helps improve the process.”

“Expect to showcase how the stroke affects you,” Fernandez said. “Your therapist needs to know your true abilities and pain limits to ensure they start you in the right place,” she says. “If possible, take someone with you who can act as an advocate. Stroke recovery is emotionally and mentally exhausting, so it can be hard to handle everything on your own.”

“Your therapist will understand your unique case and tailor a road to recovery just for you.”

What Are Some Common Exercises and Activities Prescribed During Rehab?

“The severity of the stroke determines what exercises or activities one is able to perform. In any situation, a qualified PT or OT can assess and implement the right plan specific to your needs,” said Fernandez.

Even so, most stroke recovery treatment plans include a combination of the following:

  • Range of motion exercises

  • Therapeutic stretching

  • Manual resistance training

  • Occupational skills training (e.g., fastening buttons, using zippers, tying shoelaces)

These measures ease muscle tension, improve mobility, and speed up the body’s natural healing process, helping stroke survivors improve their motor skills and get back to performing activities of daily living more quickly.

Does Physical Therapy Increase My Risk of Injuries?

Any movement can lead to an injury, but Fernandez says most injuries that occur during rehabilitation therapy are due to human error.

“In my experience, the two factors most responsible for injuries are rushing and improper form. This means doing the exercises in an incorrect way or putting your body in unsafe positions,” she said.

“Your PT or OT will always show you how to do the exercises first, then guide you through to ensure you do them correctly on your own. Make sure to listen to their feedback and make the proper adjustments.”

Fernandez continued, “Anytime you do your stretches or exercises at home, be sure you’re in a decluttered and safe space. Hazards such as loose rugs, stairs, and uneven surfaces are sure to pose a risk for falls, trips, and slips.”

How Can I Help My Body Recover After Each PT Session?

After each stroke rehabilitation appointment, it’s normal to feel tired.

“Following each PT or OT session, get plenty of rest and hydrate,” Fernandez said. “During stroke recovery, your body’s healing process is on overload. So, it’s natural to feel extra exhausted.”

“Drinking water helps replenish your muscles and the electrolytes released by exertion. Sleeping at least 8 hours each night and napping once or twice a day can give your body time to reset.”

How long do you need rehand after a stroke?

Not every stroke patient is going to have the same exact road to recovery because not everyone who has a stroke will experience the same effects. The health professionals that help you will be able to give you a better idea as they monitor you through your stroke recovery. 

Recovery may take weeks for some and months or even years for others. Some stroke survivors will require more involved inpatient rehabilitation at a hospital or other rehab facility, some may be able to return home more quickly to continue outpatient rehabilitation therapy on their own, and others may even require long-term care at a nursing home or skilled nursing facility. It’s important to remember that your recovery is unique to you.

Takeaways

If you or a loved one are recovering from a stroke, physical therapy provides hope.

“Rehabilitation plays an essential role not only in physical but emotional recovery. Physical therapy and occupational therapy can provide extraordinary help,” Fernandez said.

“If you have access to therapy sessions, I encourage you to take advantage. Strokes are devastating and life-altering, both to the person affected and their family,” she said.

“With the support of a therapist, you can regain your independence sooner than you might expect.”

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.