If you’re a visual learner, then you’ll love these leg exercises for stroke patients.
You’ll find something for all ability levels here. Whether you’re trying to improve your gait (manner of walking) or balance, you can benefit from these rehab exercises.
Feel confident knowing that each stroke exercise for legs features our favorite physical therapist, Liliana.
Video: Leg Exercises for Stroke Patients with PT Liliana
Physical therapist Liliana guides you through some great leg rehab exercises in this video:
If you prefer written direction, keep reading. The rest of this article contains more leg exercises from Liliana, DPT. They are organized from easiest to hardest.
Physical Therapy Leg Exercises for Stroke Patients
Exercising with high repetition (i.e. massed practice) is the best method for motor recovery after stroke.
As you’re designing your home therapy regimen, be sure to focus on high repetition and consistency. These are the keys to stroke recovery.
Below are our best leg exercises for stroke patients.
1. Hip Flexion with Hold
This leg exercise is great for patients with limited mobility because you can assist your leg with your arms.
To start this exercise, use your hands to lift your affected leg up into your chest. Hold there for a second before slowly letting your leg back down. Repeat on the other leg.
Try your best to keep a straight back and tight core. Repeat on both sides.
As you progress in your recovery from stroke, you can try doing this exercise without the help of your hands.
2. Hip External/Internal Rotation
This exercise is more complex but still good for patients with limited mobility.
Start by placing a towel underneath your affected foot, if you want to make the exercise easier. Skip the towel if you want more challenge.
Then, use your hands to assist your affected leg and slide your foot towards your midline. Then, push your leg outwards, using your hands for assistance if necessary.
3. Knee Extension
This is an advanced leg exercise for stroke patients. It requires significant mobility in your leg to get started. If you can’t do this movement yet, don’t be discouraged. You’ll get there in time.
Start the exercise from a seated position. Then extend your left leg out in front of you parallel to the floor (straightening your knee out). Try to keep your knee soft instead of locked out. Then, slowly bring your foot back down to the floor.
Then repeat with your right leg, alternating back and forth between your right and left legs.
4. Seated Marching
This is an advanced leg exercise for stroke patients. Start from a seated position and lift your affected leg up into your chest.
Then place your leg back down onto the floor. Keep your back straight and maintain controlled movement. Repeat on the other leg, alternating back and forth between legs.
You can turn this into a strengthening exercise, when you’re ready, by slightly pushing down on your quads (thighs) when your leg is at the top.
5. Hip Adductions/Abductions
For this leg exercise, sit in a chair and lift your affected leg slightly off the floor. Your knee should remain bent at 90 degrees, but your foot should hover over the floor.
Then, kick your leg outward like you’re kicking a ball to the side. Then, kick your leg inward toward your midline. Repeat back and forth.
Gentle Seated Leg Exercises for Stroke Patients
The leg exercises above can help stroke patients of all ability levels.
Next, the following exercises are best for patients with limited mobility. They can also help those struggling with spasticity in the legs and ankles.
If you have sufficient mobility in your legs, then you can use these as a warm up or cool down exercise.
6. Ankle Rolls
For this gentle range-of-motion exercise, sit comfortably in your seat and make big circles with your ankles. This will help stretch and warm up your ankle joint.
7. Hamstring Stretch
Spasticity can make it difficult to stretch your leg muscles. But don’t neglect these stretching exercises. Moving your muscles through their range-of-motion can help improve spasticity.
To stretch out your hamstrings, reach for your toes while staying seated in your chair. Make sure to bend at your hips and not at your low back. As long as there is no pain, hold the stretch for 20 seconds and then come up slowly.
8. Inner Thigh Squeezes
This is a strengthening exercise for the legs and adductors (inner thighs).
Start by making two fists and place them side by side between your knees. Then, squeeze your knees and fists together and hold the squeeze for 8 seconds, or as long as you can. Resistance training can help reverse muscle atrophy after stroke.
9. ‘L’ Taps
This leg exercise involves complex coordinated movements. It provides great stimulation to help rewire the brain and improve movement after stroke.
Start in a comfortable seated position with your feet below your knees. Then, bring your right foot out to your 3 o’clock position and tap your foot.
Then, bring it back to center and move it up to your 12 o’clock position and tap, returning to center after. This will make an “L” shape. Repeat on the other leg.
10. Inverse Half Squat
This is an advanced strengthening exercise. Stroke patients with limited mobility should exercise caution. To improve your safety, try practicing in front of a table or desk that you can hold for support.
Start with your legs out a little wider than normal, and secure yourself in a strong stance. Then, stand halfway up – but only halfway – and then sit back down.
You may feel a slight burn in your quadriceps. This means you’re breaking down your leg muscles before your body builds them back up, stronger than before.
How to Get Back to Walking with Stroke Exercises for Legs
As you practice these stroke exercises for your legs, the coordination and mobility in your lower extremities should improve.
If you want to improve your gait (manner of walking) be sure to add rehab exercises that target your core, too. Core exercises help improve your balance so that you can get back on your feet with confidence.
Also, if foot drop is making walking difficult, be sure to practice foot drop exercises too.
Some rehab tools, like FitMi home therapy, help you exercise your lower extremities more efficiently so that you can see results faster. Many stroke patients have gotten back to walking and driving after using FitMi.
Then, when it’s safe to do so, you can continue to improve your gait by practicing walking. We know this sounds obvious, but walking really is the best way to get better at walking!
We hope these leg exercises help support your recovery from stroke.