Balance is a complex function. It requires coordination of the legs, feet, and core. Even your arms play a role in your balance as they swing by your sides when you walk.
Therefore, regaining balance after a stroke is no small task. It’s possible though, with the right rehabilitation methods in your toolbox.
To help you find the best way to improve balance after stroke, we gathered the best data-driven treatments. Hopefully they help you get back on your feet with confidence.
First, it helps to understand the underlying cause of balance problems after stroke, so that you can treat it effectively.
What Causes Balance Problems After a Stroke?
Each hemisphere of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. Strokes usually affect either the left or right hemisphere while leaving the other side undamaged.
Damage to only one side of the brain results in motor difficulties on the opposite side of the body, like hemiplegia (paralysis on half the body) or hemiparesis (weakness on half the body).
Balance requires coordination from both sides of the body. When stroke patients sustain secondary effects like hemiplegia or hemiparesis, balance can easily become impaired. Additionally, changes in a person’s vision, sensation and/or proprioception (the sense that tells us the position of our body in space) after a stroke can all play into balance impairments as well.
Poor balance puts stroke patients at a greater risk of falling. For this reason, many therapists prioritize balance therapy during inpatient and outpatient rehab.
Next, we’ll share the core philosophy that therapists use to help you regain balance, so that you can replicate the process at home.
How Repetitive Practice Helps Stroke Survivors Regain Balance After Stroke
Difficulty with movement after a stroke is caused by miscommunication between the brain and the muscles. When a stroke has damaged the brain’s ability to correctly send signals to affected muscles, they become difficult (or impossible) to move.
Fortunately, you can rewire the brain and encourage healthy brain tissue to take on these functions. This process is known as neuroplasticity, and this is how you can regain balance after stroke.
Neuroplasticity is activated with repetitive practice. Whenever you practice something, you strengthen the neural pathways in your brain responsible for that task. The more you practice, the better you get.
If you want to regain balance after stroke, you need to practice balance therapy exercises (which you will find next). This will help you rewire your brain and get back on your feet with confidence.
Best Methods for Regaining Balance After Stroke
To regain balance after stroke, there are specific muscles groups that you should train to improve your full-body coordination.
Also, because every stroke is different, each patient will benefit from different methods. It’s often helpful to experiment with different methods until you find one that works best for you.
Here are some of the best ways to regain balance after stroke:
1. Consistent Rehabilitation Exercise
This balance therapy method is most useful for: Individuals with hemiparesis or hemiplegia
A prominent cause of poor balance after stroke is impaired muscle coordination in the legs and core. If you can rewire the brain and improve coordination in those muscle groups, then your balance will improve too.
Ask your physical therapist for some leg and core exercises that you can practice at home. You can also explore our exercise guides as well:
It’s important to practice your rehab exercises daily, or at least every other day. You need consistent stimulation to help your brain rewire itself as efficiently as possible.
2. Foot Drop Exercises
This balance therapy method is most useful for: Individuals that struggle with dorsiflexion (lifting the front part of your foot up)
Foot drop is a condition that impairs your ability to lift the front of your foot, which can cause it to drag on the floor when you walk.
This is a dangerous effect of stroke because it impairs your balance and increases the likelihood of falling.
For a short-term fix, you can get fitted for a brace called an AFO (ankle foot orthotic). That can help improve your balance while you work on rehab.
In the meantime, it’s important to address the root cause of the foot drop, which you can do by practicing foot drop exercises.
3. Vision Deprivation Therapy
This balance therapy method is most useful for: Individuals that can practice under the supervision of a caregiver or therapist
To regain optimal balance, you also need to process visual stimuli to appropriately adjust your movements to your surroundings. Surprisingly, one way to improve your balance involves vision deprivation therapy.
In this study, stroke patients who were deprived of visual cues improved their balance more than the control group. This suggests that overuse of visual cues may be a compensatory strategy for coping with balance problems after stroke.
If you feel comfortable, try asking a caregiver to blindfold you while you stay seated and practice some leg exercises. Ask your caregiver to provide verbal feedback to let you know if you’re doing it right.
Once you feel ready, you can try more complex exercises, but only when you’re ready. Attempting to move without looking where you are going could be very dangerous. Be sure to only try this under the close supervision of a therapist or caregiver.
4. Cognitive Training Exercises
This balance therapy method is useful for: individuals that struggle with concentration or awareness
Some balance issues are worsened by cognitive problems, like impaired concentration and hemineglect (failing to notice the environment on your affected side).
When stroke affects your ability to concentrate or notice your environment, it can result in poor balance. For example, you may slip on a step, not because your legs are weak, but because you simply did not notice the step.
Therefore, improving your attention can help with regaining balance after stroke. One way to do this is with cognitive training exercises that focus on spatial awareness.
Just like you can rewire the brain to improve leg coordination, you can also improve cognitive function. It’s all about repetitive practice.
5. Modified Yoga Therapy
This balance therapy method is useful for: anyone interested in a modified yoga program
If you enjoy yoga, then you’ll be pleased to know that modified yoga has been shown to help improve balance after stroke.
After doing yoga twice a week for 8 weeks, stroke patients improved in the following balance-related areas:
- Improved activities-specific balance confidence
- Reduced fear of falling
- Improved quality of life
Try participating in modified yoga sessions twice a week with a trained therapist, if you can. It’s important to work with a therapist familiar with stroke so that (s)he can modify each pose correctly.
You can also search for modified yoga sequences on YouTube. Here’s a video showing a chair yoga flow for stroke survivors:
Now you understand the best methods to regain balance after stroke. Next you might wonder how long it will take to see results.
How Long Does It Take to Get Your Balance Back After a Stroke?
According to our data-driven stroke recovery timeline, many stroke survivors improve their balance after about 6 months with consistent and rigorous therapy.
Six months is roughly how long it takes to improve your gait (manner of walking) and other stroke side effects that affect balance.
Your recovery time may be shorter or longer depending upon the size and location of your stroke. Every stroke is different; therefore, every recovery takes different amounts of time.
Sometimes it can be counterproductive to focus on how long stroke recovery might take. Instead, it can be helpful to turn your attention towards the steps you can take to speed up recovery.
The good news is that when you participate in rehabilitation consistently, your balance will continue to improve.
Even if you took a break from rehab for years, you can pick things up where you left off and continue recovery.
Although it happens at different rates for everyone, you can continue to regain balance after stroke with a consistent rehabilitation routine.
Summary: Regaining Balance After Stroke
Balance problems after stroke are the result of various stroke effects such as hemiplegia, hemiparesis, and foot drop.
The best treatments involve repetitive practice. By repeating therapeutic stroke rehabilitation exercises, you can rewire the brain and improve balance after stroke.
Complimentary treatments like modified yoga and vision deprivation therapy may prove useful when practiced under the supervision of a trained professional.
Overall, rest assured that balance problems will improve after stroke as long as you’re participating in regular therapy.