Physical Therapy for Stroke Victims | Life After Strokes

Physical Therapy for Stroke Victims

Stroke survivors and professional baseball pitchers have something in common: Repetition is a key element to their success.

Just as professional baseball pitchers strengthen their pitching arms and perfect pinpoint accuracy through repetitive throws, stroke survivors use repetition to recover from any residual disabilities.

Nearly 800,000 people have a stroke each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. The vast majority of the people who suffer a stroke — 610,000 — are first-time sufferers, with the remaining group suffering a subsequent stroke.

About one in four stroke victims die at the time of the event or soon after while another 15 to 30 percent remain permanently disabled. The total annual stroke costs in the U.S. are about $38.6 billion, all according to the CDC.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke outlines some of the measures taken to help stroke survivors relearn skills that are lost when part of the brain is damaged. Some of the skills can include coordinating leg movements in order to walk or carrying out the steps involved in complex activities. Rehabilitation also teaches survivors new ways of performing tasks to circumvent or compensate for any residual disabilities, according to the organization.

Some daily activities that stroke survivors may have to learn include bathing or dressing using only one hand.

“There is a strong consensus among rehabilitation experts that the most important element in any rehabilitation program is carefully directed, well-focused, repetitive practice —the same kind of practice used by all people when they learn a new skill, such as playing the piano or pitching a baseball,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Physical therapists can play an integral role in helping stroke patients recover. The stroke survivor’s strength, endurance, range of motion, gait abnormalities and sensory deficits are measured so that rehabilitation programs can be individualized.

The American Physical Therapy Association cites a 2014 scientific statement, released jointly by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, asserting that exercise and activity programs reduce the risks of subsequent strokes and also strengthen independent living abilities while maintaining or improving cognition and reducing depression.

Stroke survivors often develop a chronic sedentary lifestyle that leads to further health declines and a greater incidence of other cardiovascular events, according to the statement. “What is particularly disconcerting is that many of these stroke survivors have the ability to undertake higher levels of physical activity but choose not to do so,” according to the authors of the statement.

The role of physical therapists is to help survivors regain the use of stroke-impaired limbs, teach them how to compensate for the reduction of use in some physical abilities and establish ongoing exercise programs to help people retain their newly learned skills.

The strategies used by physical therapists, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, can include selective sensory stimulation such as:

  • Tapping or stroking
  • Active and passive range-of-motion exercises
  • Temporary restraint of healthy limbs while practicing motor tasks.

Physical therapy can emphasize practicing isolated movements, repeatedly changing from one kind of movement to another and rehearsing complex movements that require a great deal of coordination and balance. These movements can include walking up or down stairs or moving safely between obstacles.

Aquatic therapy can be used for people too weak to bear their own weight so they can still practice repetitive movements. Selective sensory simulation can also be used to encourage the use of impaired limbs.

Just like professional pitchers need coaches, trainers and other experts to reach their top potential, people who have suffered strokes will have Tidewater Physical Therapy therapists working with physicians to coordinate their rehabilitation to achieve their maximum recovery.

Finding a Physical Therapist

Many of the physical therapists at Tidewater Physical Therapy Inc. hold Direct Access Certification through the Virginia Board of Physical Therapy allowing them to evaluate and treat patients without a prescription. As part of your healthcare team, a physical therapist will make an assessment of your condition and create a plan to start you on the road to wellness. Our team will communicate with your physician of record and obtain a referral, if necessary, for your continued treatment. We will also work with your insurance carrier to make sure services are covered by your plan. To make your own appointment, find a clinic near you.