Physical Therapy’s Role In Recovering From A Stroke

Suffering from a stroke – whether it is experiencing it yourself or watching a loved one – can be a scary and devastating event.

A stroke happens when a blood vessel responsible for carrying oxygen to the brain clots or bursts, thereby depriving the brain of needed oxygen. Without that oxygen, brain cells, and even whole parts of the brain can die.

Want more information about strokes? Here are some facts:

  • 795,000 people in the U.S. will suffer from a stroke this year.
  • On average, one person dies from a stroke every four minutes, making strokes the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Females are more likely than males to suffer from strokes with an estimated 60% of people who suffer from strokes being female.
  • Strokes are the leading cause of disability in American adults.

While the stroke itself is scary, what can be even scarier is wondering and not knowing what life will be like after.

While physical therapy does not reverse the brain damage caused by stroke, it can help stroke survivors relearn the skills they need to become independent again.


Recovering from a stroke all starts with a plan and a physical therapist to come up with a roadmap for a return to the best active life possible.

After a stroke survivors may have to re-learn things like walking, coordinating their legs to move, getting dressed and how to propel a wheelchair, especially they may not walk again.

Every stroke, like every person, is different making the development of individualized therapy plans important.

Stroke survivors – and often their family members helping them through their recovery – will meet with a physical therapist to develop a personalized plan for relearning the skills needed for independent living.

Family members play an important role for stroke survivors as they often need to be there for rehabilitation appointments to learn the exercises to complete at home and to help better understand the caregiver’s role in recovery.


So what does an active life look like after a stroke? Physical therapists employ a wide variety of strategies to help stroke survivors learn to live again.

They emphasize practicing isolated and repetitive movements that require coordination and balance, skills that need to be mastered to accomplish tasks like walking up stairs or navigating around obstacles in a room. Therapists also utilize selective sensory stimulation such as tapping or stroking, active and passive range-of-motion exercises and the temporary restraint of healthy limbs. While practicing, these motor tasks, patients can relearn skills or practice workarounds for skills that are no longer possible.

Physical therapy, and physical activity each day, in general, has been shown to benefit survivors in ways above and beyond the physical aspects of increased mobility. Physical activity alone helps survivors’ outlooks, builds strength, increases endurance and decreases risk factors for cardiac disease, which may translate into a reduced mortality risk for stroke and heart disease.


While physical therapy can be very helpful after a stroke, it is not a magical solution.

Rehabilitation may take months or years, depending on the severity of the stroke and is heavily reliant on practice at home.

Support from family members and adherence to any rehabilitation plan developed by a medical team can help stroke survivors regain more normalcy in their life. Strokes can be devastating but do not have to result in a total loss of independence. Physical therapy can help.

Want to learn more? Find a Tidewater Physical Therapy clinic near you and make your own appointment. Or just call. We’re happy to help you understand how and when to make an appointment or schedule a consultation.