15 expert stroke exercises for effective physical therapy at home
The following exercises for stroke patients are guided by licensed occupational and physical therapists.
Their expert stroke recovery exercises will help you get valuable physical therapy from the comfort of your own home.
Let’s dive in.
Why you should do it: Leg exercises for stroke patients can help improve your gait (manner of walking) and balance.
Watch PT Liliana demonstrate leg stroke rehabilitation exercises at home:
The following stroke rehabilitation exercises are guided by a physical therapist named Liliana, DPT.
1. Knee Extensions
From a seated position, extend your left leg until it’s parallel to the floor. Avoid locking your knee. Then, slowly bring your foot back down to the floor.
Repeat with your right leg, alternating back and forth between legs for a total of 20 repetitions (10 on each leg).
2. Seated Marching
From a seated position, lift your affected leg up into your chest, trying your best to maintain controlled movement.
Then place your foot back down onto the floor. Repeat on the other leg, alternating back and forth for a total of 10 repetitions.
Why you should do it: Core exercises help strengthen your midline stability, which also improves your balance and gait.
Watch PT Cassie demonstrate core stroke rehabilitation exercises:
These stroke rehab exercises are guided by Cassie, DPT.
3. Knee to Chest
From a comfortable lying position, bring you right leg into your chest. At the top, give your core squeeze, then bring your leg back down.
Focus on engaging your core to do this movement instead of your leg. Repeat on each leg a total of 10 times.
4. Toe Taps
While lying on your back, lift your legs up and bend your knees at a 90 degree angle.
From there, bring your left leg down and gently tap the floor with your left foot. Then, bring your leg back up by using your core muscles.
Maintain a 90 degree bend in your knee the entire time. Repeat on each leg 10 times while keeping your core as tight as possible.
Why you should do it: Arm exercises for stroke patients will help you get back to the activities of daily living, like getting dressed and cooking.
Watch OTA Barbara demonstrate arm rehabilitation exercises:
The following stroke exercises are led by Barbara, OTA.
5. Tabletop Circle Movement
Lace your fingers together and wrap both hands around a water bottle. Then, make large circular movements. You can use your non-affected arm to guide your affected arm. Make 10 slow, controlled circles.
6. Unweighted Bicep Curls
Start with your elbow on a table with your arm bent at 90 degrees. Then, curl your arm up just a little, and then release it back down just a little. Slowly repeat 10 times.
The upward motion activates your bicep, and the downward motion activates your tricep. Both are equally important, so focus on them equally, too.
7. Open Arm Movement
Hold a water bottle with your affected hand and keep your elbows glued to your sides. Then, with your arms bent at 90 degrees, open your arms up so that your forearms come out to your sides.
Move your arms back to center and slowly repeat 10 times.
Bonus: Download our free Stroke Rehab Exercises ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)
8. Weight Bearing Lean
From a seated position, prop yourself up on your affected arm about one foot away from your body. Then lean into it.
If it feels good, feel the stretch for 10 seconds or so. And if it doesn’t feel good, stop the stretch immediately.
After 10 seconds or so, place your other arm out beside you so that you’re supported by both arms. Then rock from side to side, shifting your weight from one arm to the next.
9. Tabletop Pushing Movement
Place a water bottle on a table and push it across the table using the back of your affected wrist. Try your best to avoid hiking your shoulder up.
Once the bottle has reached the other side of the table, hook the front of your wrist around the bottle and push it back.
Repeat 5 times.
10. Tabletop Punching Movement
Next, place the bottle near you and then push it away from you with your affected arm. Keep your forearm on the table and try to resist hiking your shoulder. Repeat 5 times.
If you cannot help but hike your shoulder during these movements, don’t beat yourself up. This is called synergistic movement and it will decrease as your mobility improves through these exercises!
Why you should do it: Although fine motor skills are the often last thing to come back after stroke, hand exercises can help you get there.
Watch OT Barbara demonstrate hand exercises for stroke recovery:
11. Wrist Bend Movement
While keeping your elbow on the table, use your non-affected hand to stretch your affected hand at the wrist.
Stretch backward, then stretch forward. Perform this movement slowly for a total of 5 reps.
12. Wrist Side Movement
Place your affected hand on the table with your palm down. Then, use your non-affected hand to slide your hand to the left and then to the right. Focus on initiating the movement solely from your wrist.
Repeat slowly for a total of 10 reps.
13. Wrist Curl
This exercise is much like a bicep curl, except for your wrist!
Grasp the water bottle still in your affected hand and use your non-affected hand to prop and support your arm.
Allow your wrist to stretch down, and then curl your wrist up. Repeat 10 times.
14. Rolling Movement
Place a water bottle in your affected hand and then curl your fingers in to grasp the water bottle. Then release your grip. Repeat a total of 10 times.
15. Pen Spin (Difficult)
Place a pen on the table and use your affected fingers to spin it. Try not to use your shoulder during this movement. If you can, try to spin the pen quickly 15 times.
How to Adapt Exercises for Paralysis or Spasticity
Now that you know the best stroke exercises, we’d like to show you how to adapt them to your current level of mobility.
To recover from post-stroke paralysis (hemiplegia), you need to practice passive exercise. For post-stroke weakness (hemiparesis), you need to practice active exercise.
Here’s the difference between passive vs active rehab exercise:
- Passive exercise involves assisting your affected side through a movement. This help can come from a caregiver, therapist, or yourself by using your non-affected side.
- Active exercise involves performing a movement on your own without needing help.
Individuals with hemiplegia (paralysis in their affected side) need to start with passive paralysis recovery exercise and work their way up to active exercise.
You can adapt the following exercises for hemiplegia by using your non-affected side to assist your affected side through each movement.
Although you aren’t “doing it yourself,” it still helps activate neuroplasticity and reconnect mind to muscle.
High repetition is the best way to improve movement after stroke. That’s what Flint Rehab’s recovery tool FitMi is all about.
Individuals with hemiparesis (spasticity and weakness in their affected side) can go straight into active stroke rehabilitation exercises.