By David P. Brungo, PT, Expert Contributor, Summerville PT & Balance Rehab for Adults

How  Physical Therapy Can Help After a Stroke

Treatments for stroke depend on many factors, including what kind of stroke is involved and how long it lasted.  The sooner you can seek help after a stroke, the more likely you’ll have a better recovery.  Rehabilitative therapies, including physical, occupational and/or speech therapies, are critical after a stroke.

Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapies After Stroke are ESSENTIAL to Optimizing Outcomes

The goals of stroke rehabilitation are to help stroke survivors live as independently as possible while adjusting to new limitations.  Strokes can cause problems with movement, coordination and balance.  Paralysis or weakness is common after stroke — especially on one side of the body.  Physical therapy can help stroke survivors regain strength, coordination, balance, and control of their movements.

Things that were once easy to do, such as basic walking, sitting upright with adequate balance, or getting into/out of bed, may be extremely difficult or even impossible following a stroke.  Physical therapy can restore one’s capabilities in these areas and improve one’s overall capacity to remain independent or at least minimize the amount of caregiver assistance needed following a stroke.  To the latter end, PT also involves training caregivers on how best to care for an individual after a stroke.

If you’re ever in need of physical therapy after a stroke, your doctor should order physical therapy.  PT can occur in the hospital right after a stroke, at your home, in an outpatient setting, at an inpatient rehabilitation hospital, at a nursing home or at an assisted living facility.

Balance Training with PT in an Outpatient Setting


You can reduce your risk of having a stroke by staying active, maintaining a healthy diet and keeping your weight and blood pressure under control.  Talk to your doctor about other ways you can reduce your risk of having a stroke.

(Adapted from: “What Are the Different Types of Strokes?” found online at:; Dec. 21st, 2017)

Frequent Asked Questions Regarding Strokes:

Q:  What is a stroke?

A:  A stroke is a medical emergency that happens when the blood flow to your brain is interrupted. Without blood, your brain cells start to die.  This can cause serious symptoms, lasting disability, and even death.  There are basically three main types of strokes, each type with their unique symptoms and, subsequently, unique treatments.  Physical Therapy is CRITICAL following a stroke regardless of the type.

Q:  What are the different types of strokes?

A:  There are three main types of stroke. The vast majority of strokes – about 87 percent of all strokes — are ischemic in nature.

  • Transient ischemic attacks:  TIAs occur when a blood clot temporarily blocks blood flow to your brain.  The blood clot and TIA symptoms last for a short period of time and usually resolve completely within 48-72 hours.  Ischemic strokes occur when a blood clot keeps blood from flowing to your brain on a permanent basis.  The blood clot is often due to atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of fatty deposits on the inner lining of a blood vessel.  The deposits can break off and block blood flow in your brain — similar to what happens when you have a heart attack where a blood clot blocks blood flow to a portion of your heart.
  • Ischemic stroke: An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot keeps blood from flowing to your brain.  The blood clot is often due to atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of fatty deposits on the inner lining of a blood vessel.  A portion of these fatty deposits can break off and block blood flow in your brain.  The concept is similar to that of a heart attack, where a blood clot blocks blood flow to a portion of your heart.
  • Hemorrhagic strokes:  A hemorrhagic stroke results when a blood vessel in your brain ruptures or breaks, spilling blood into the surrounding tissues.  There are two types of hemorrhagic strokes: The first is an aneurysm, which causes a portion of a weakened blood vessel to balloon outward and sometimes rupture.  The other type is due to deformed blood vessels.  If a deformed vessel ruptures, it can cause a hemorrhagic stroke.


Q:  What are the symptoms of a stroke?

A:  The different stroke types cause similar symptoms because each affects blood flow in your brain.  The only way to determine what type of stroke you may be having is to seek medical attention.  A doctor will order imaging tests (e.g., CAT scans or MRIs) to view your brain.

The National Stroke Association recommends the acronym “FAST” to help identify the warning signs of a stroke:

Face: When you smile, does one side of your face droop or one eyelid stay partially closed?

Arms: When you raise both arms, does one arm fall/drift downward?

Speech: Is your speech slurred?  Are you having trouble talking?

Time: If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.


Additional symptoms that don’t fit into the FAST model may include:

  • sudden confusion, such as difficulty understanding what a person is saying;
  • difficulty walking, sudden dizziness, or loss of coordination;
  • sudden, severe headache that doesn’t have any other known cause;
  • difficulty seeing in one or both eyes; and
  • choking or coughing when swallowing foods or liquids


A TIA will cause these symptoms for only a short amount of time.  However, you shouldn’t ignore stroke symptoms, even if they go away quickly.

Q:  What other complications can a stroke cause?

A:  A stroke is a medical emergency for a reason — it can have life-threatening complications.  Examples of complications may include:

  • Behavior changes:  Having a stroke can contribute to depression or anxiety.  You also may experience changes in your behavior, such as being more impulsive or more withdrawn from socializing with others.
  • Speech difficulties:  A stroke can impact areas of your brain having to do with speech and swallowing.  As a result, you may have difficulty expressing yourself verbally as well as difficulty with reading, writing, or understanding other people when they’re speaking.


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