Stroke exercises can help patients regain mobility and strength in the body.
Practicing therapeutic movements helps activate neuroplasticity after stroke and rewire the brain, which improves control of the affected muscles.
Working with a physical therapist (PT) and occupational therapist (OT) is ideal for recovery of movement after stroke. However, after discharge from inpatient rehabilitation, patients are often left with limited access to a trained therapist.
Fortunately, you can do your own physical therapy from home by following along to stroke exercises given by your therapist, like the ones you’ll find below.
We provided a video for each section to help guide you along. There’s also pictures and written direction if that’s what you prefer. Enjoy!
Stroke Exercises for Legs
Follow along to these leg exercises with physical therapist Liliana in the YouTube video above.
Leg exercises for stroke patients can help improve your gait (manner of walking) and balance. Training the legs can also help reduce the risk of falling, which is a priority for stroke patients.
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.
3. Ankle Dorsiflexion
Stroke patients that struggle with foot drop (difficulty with dorsiflexion) will greatly benefit from this particular stroke exercise.
Start with your affected leg still crossed over your other leg. Then, flex your foot back towards your shin – a movement known as dorsiflexion. If you cannot do this, use your hand to assist your foot through the movement (passive range of motion exercise).
Repeat 10 times.
Stroke Exercises for Balance and Core
Follow along to these trunk exercises with physical therapist Cassie in the YouTube video above.
Trunk exercises help improve core stability, which also helps improve gait and balance after stroke. Core stability is important for the activities of daily living, so don’t neglect your core.
4. Trunk Rotation (Twists)
This particular stroke exercises is helpful for all impairment levels.
Start from a seated position, and then place your right hand on the outside of your left thigh. Then, with a straight back, use your arm to gently twist your torso to the left.
Think about initiating the movement from your core, not your arms. Also, don’t twist to the point of pain. Move gently.
Return to center and complete this trunk rotation 15 times.
5. 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.
6. 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.
Stroke Exercises for Arms
Follow along to these arm exercises with occupational therapist Barbara in the YouTube video above.
Arm exercises for stroke patients will help you get back to the activities of daily living, like getting dressed and cooking.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
Stroke Exercises for Shoulders and Upper Extremity
The shoulder is a vulnerable joint susceptible to injury, so take great care to avoid pain while doing these exercises.
Also, try your best not to hike your shoulder up during these stroke exercises. If you can’t help it, that’s ok – just try your best each time. This is called synergistic movement and it will decrease as your mobility improves through these exercises!
10. Weight Bearing Lean
From a seated position, gently prop yourself up on your affected arm about one foot away from your body. Then gently lean into it. You should feel a mild stretch on your affected side.
If it feels good, hold the stretch for 10 seconds, and then return to center. Repeat on the other side for a total of 3 sets.
If it doesn’t feel good, stop the stretch immediately.
11. Tabletop Lateral 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.
12. Forward Pushing Movement
Next, place the bottle near you and then push it straight forward with your affected arm. Keep your forearm on the table and try to resist hiking your shoulder. Repeat 5 times.
Stroke Exercises for Wrists, Hands, and Fingers
Follow along to these hand rehab exercises with occupational therapist Barbara in the YouTube video above.
Rehabilitation exercises for the hands and fingers should not be neglected because fine motor skills often take the longest to regain after stroke.
13. Hand Surface Stretch
For a gentle rehab exercises, simply stretch your hand open over a tabletop, your thigh, or an exercise ball. This is particularly useful if you struggle with a clenched hand after stroke.
14. Wrist Bend Movement
Place your elbow on a table, and then 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.
15. Wrist Side Movement
Next 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.
16. Wrist Curl
This exercise is much like a bicep curl, but 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.
17. Hand 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.
18. Pen Spin (Advanced)
Hand exercises can be difficult for stroke patients due to limited fine motor skills. As the weeks go by, your hand spasticity should decrease and, as a result, your mobility should increase.
When you’re ready, try this advanced stroke exercises by spinning a pen with your affected hand. This can be a difficult movement, so proceed when you’re ready.
Stroke Exercises for Paralysis
To recover from post-stroke paralysis (hemiplegia), you need to practice passive exercise. This means assisting your affected limb through the movement, either with the help of a caregiver or by using your non-affected side.
You can turn any of the above exercises into paralysis exercises by practicing them passively.
Below, you’ll find stroke exercises particularly helpful for post-stroke paralysis.
19. Palm Up and Down (Hands)
Place your hand on a table top with your palm facing up. Then, use your non-affected hand to help flip your palm down. Repeat back and forth. Palm up, palm down. Repeat 10 times total.
20. Cane Stretch (Arm)
Place your affected hand on a cane with your non-affected hand on top. Then, slowly lean onto the cane. You should feel a gentle stretch through your affected arm. Hold for 3 seconds, and then return to center. Repeat 5 times.
21. Lying Rotation (Core)
You might need the help of a caregiver for this stroke paralysis exercise.
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Then, let your knees fall to the right and twist your truck to help your legs lower. Then, lift your knees back up and repeat on the other side.
Daily Stroke Rehab Exercise at Home
When you try these stroke exercises at home, find some of your favorites and then do them daily. Consistent practice is key for rewiring the brain and strengthening the new neural connections.
As John Maxell said, “the secret of your success if found in your daily routine.” Now that you have a solid list of stroke exercises, make sure that you do them daily.
If you have trouble staying motivated, many stroke patients have found great success with gamified rehab equipment like Flint Rehab’s FitMi. It motivates users to achieve 23 times more repetition, on average, because it’s more engaging.
No matter how you get moving, just make sure that you move and you’ll be on the road to recovery.