Question: Can physical therapy help a person recover from a stroke?
The short answer is YES! Every stroke is unique in the way it affects a person. However, there are some similarities depending on what part of the brain is affected. There may be physical changes, such as weakness or sensory loss; communication challenges, such as with speech and the ability to read or write; and there may be alterations in behavior or personality. All of these changes may affect how a person is able to perform their daily activities and interact with others. Fortunately, treatment including physical therapy can help improve a person’s recovery and quality of life.
Depending on how significant the stroke was, a person may anticipate recovery to normal or near-normal function, while others may struggle with long term disability. Most people will show at least some initial improvement, although how much better they will get is somewhat of a mystery. One thing that does help is beginning rehabilitation as soon as possible after a stroke.
Physical therapy is designed to address both sensory and motor impairments. Depending on the person’s condition and situation, physical therapists use a variety of techniques and strategies to help individuals recover strength and improve their motor control while encouraging them to challenge themselves to move better. During early rehabilitation sessions, we see patients in the hospital every day to focus on function, including bed mobility, transfers, balance, and walkingEventually patients are discharged, usually to home, and therapy is provided as home care or outpatient services, which may continue for several weeks to months, with visits a few times per week and tends to focus on community mobility and reintegration skills like endurance, higher level balance and transfers like getting off the floor, carrying objects, managing doors, stairs, sidewalks, grass, etc.
One exiting scientific discovery about the brain is that people can continue to see improvements for years after their stroke because the brain is plastic. This means that it is capable of changing in response to experience. . So while progress may be ongoing even after formal therapy is done, the gains slow down and become smaller, and it takes more effort to make changes. So nowadays we’re a lot more optimistic about long-range recovery, and recognize that opportunities for progress extend much further than we once thought.
It’s very encouraging for therapists and stroke survivors alike to know that its movement and exercise that drive brain change for the better – after all, that’s what physical therapy is all about!
For more information about stroke treatment and prevention, visit stroke.org.