Stroke exercises can help patients regain mobility and strength in the body.
In the early stages of stroke recovery, patients often exercise with the help of an expert team. Both physical and occupational therapists can assist with your recovery.
After discharge from inpatient rehabilitation, the expert team isn’t as available. To keep improving, stroke survivors must follow a home exercise program with consistency.
The exercises below make a great addition to your home rehabilitation program. Be sure to check with your therapist before trying new exercises.
How to Adjust Rehab Exercises to Your Ability Level
Before we get started, it’s important to know how to adjust your at-home stroke recovery exercises to suit your ability level.
Stroke survivors with paralysis may need to take a step back and practice passive exercises first. This means assisting your affected side through the movement.
Therapist assisting the arm through passive movement
Passive exercise helps patients recover from paralysis by stimulating neuroplasticity. If you aren’t familiar with this word, understanding it should be your top priority.
Neuroplasticity is the mechanism the brain uses to rewire and heal itself after injury. It’s what allows your brain to recover lost skills like walking and using your arm.
It may take time, and results may come slowly, but passive exercise will help increase your chances of recovery from stroke paralysis.
Stroke survivors that have partial movement, and wish to improve more, can continue with active exercises. This means doing the movement on your own without help.
Stroke patient doing active movement on her own
Most importantly, focus on performing high repetition of your stroke rehab exercises to help stimulate the brain. The more you engage neuroplasticity, the more you can improve mobility.
You will see faster results if you practice every day instead of once per week. The brain needs constant stimulation to rebuild and strengthen new neural connections.
With that said, let’s dig into the full-body stroke exercises. First up are the legs.
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
For this stroke recovery exercises, start in a seated position. Then, 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
For this second leg exercise, stay in a seated position, and then lift your affected leg up into your chest. 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 Exercise
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 this stroke recovery exercise 10 times.
Stroke Exercises for Balance and Core
In the video above, physical therapist Cassie demonstrates stroke recovery exercises that target the trunk for improved balance.
Balance exercises help improve core stability and gait, while reducing the risk of falling.
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 Movement
Proceed with caution with the next two stroke recovery exercises. If your low back lifts up off the floor, then skip these movement until you’re ready.
Start from a comfortable lying position, and then 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 throughout this exercise instead of your leg. Repeat on each leg a total of 10 times.
6. Toe Tap Core Exercise
Lie down on your back and then lift your legs up and bend your knees at a 90 degree angle. Be extra careful as you move through this stroke recovery exercise.
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
In the video above, occupational therapy assistant Barbara demonstrates these arm exercises for stroke patients.
Arm exercises are particularly helpful for getting back to the activities of daily living, like getting dressed and using the toilet. Be sure to work these into your stroke recovery exercise regimen.
7. Tabletop Circle Exercise
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 through this stroke exercise. 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 for this stroke recovery exercise, so focus on them equally, too.
9. Open Arm Exercise
Hold a water bottle with your affected hand and keep your elbows close 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 stroke patients should take great care to avoid pain while doing these exercises.
Also, avoid elevating your shoulder up during these exercises. This is called synergistic movement and it should decrease as your mobility improves through these stroke exercises.
10. Weight Bearing Lean
For this stroke recovery exercise, start by sitting on the edge of a bed or sofa. Gently prop yourself up on your affected arm about one foot away from your body, using your unaffected hand to stabilize the affected elbow.
Then gently lean into it. This is called weight bearing. 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.
Always remain in a pain-free range for all exercises.
11. Tabletop Lateral Pushing Exercise
For this second shoulder exercise, place a water bottle on a table and push it across the table using the back of your affected wrist. Avoid elevating your shoulder.
Once the bottle has reached the other side of the table, place the front of your wrist around the bottle and push it back. Repeat 5 times.
12. Tabletop Forward Pushing Exercise
For the last shoulder recovery exercise, place the bottle near you and then push it straight forward with your affected arm. Keep your forearm on the table and avoid elevating your shoulder. Repeat 5 times.
Stroke Exercises for Wrists, Hands, and Fingers
In the video above, occupational therapy assistant Barbara demonstrates a few helpful hand rehab exercises.
We provided more hand exercises for stroke recovery than any other muscle group. That’s because hand movement is one of the slowest functions to return. The smaller the muscle, the quicker the fatigue of the muscle and the further from the body, the slower the recovery.
Therefore, hand rehabilitation exercises should continue until you start to see improvements.
13. Hand Surface Stretch
Let’s start with some gentle hand rehab exercises. Start by simply stretching 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.
This gentle stretch will help prevent or reduce contractures and stimulate the brain. Try doing this all throughout the day, if you can, instead of just during your stroke recovery exercises.
14. Wrist Bend Movement
For this simple stroke exercise, 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
Place your affected hand on the table with your palm down. 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 Exercise
This stroke exercise is much like a bicep curl, but for your wrist. Grasp the water bottle with your affected hand and use your non-affected hand to 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 this stroke recovery exercise a total of 10 times.
18. Pen Spin (Advanced)
Hand exercises can be difficult for stroke patients due to limited fine motor skills. Over time, 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 fingers. This can be a difficult movement, so proceed if you are challenged by it but not frustrated by it.
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 this recovery exercise 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.
Creating Your Stroke Rehab Exercise Program
Pick some exercises that target the muscles you want to improve and add them to your daily stroke exercise program.
Consistency and repetition is key for rewiring the brain. Try to practice at least 20 repetitions of each exercise.
If you have trouble staying motivated, many stroke patients have achieved great results with high-tech rehab exercise equipment like Flint Rehab’s FitMi.
The FitMi home exercise program motivates users to achieve 23 times more repetition than a traditional therapy session because it’s more fun and engaging.
This high repetition helps stroke survivors achieve faster results and get back to walking, driving, and cooking again.
Physical activity is key to recovery. We hope this has inspired you to get moving.
Photo credit from top to bottom: ©iStock.com/puckons, sarinyapinngam, Zinkevych