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Stroke Exercises for the Full-Body: How to Recover Mobility at Home

stroke patient exercising at home

Stroke exercises are an important tool for survivors that want to improve mobility. In fact, a consistent home exercise program is one of the best ways to continue recovery well beyond discharge from inpatient rehabilitation.

This post contains examples of full-body stroke exercises that you can practice at home. Each section contains a video featuring a licensed therapist so that you can follow along. Whether you want to recover from paralysis or sharpen your fine motor skills, this article has something for everyone.

Jump straight to any stroke exercise section by using the links below:

How to Adjust Stroke Exercises to Your Ability Level

Before we get started, it’s important to know how to adjust your stroke exercises to suit your ability level because survivors with paralysis need different techniques than survivors with existing movement.

If you are starting with no movement on your affected side, you can encourage recovery by starting with passive exercise first, which means assisting your affected side through the movement. This can be achieved by either using your non-affected side or by enlisting the help of a caregiver or therapist.

Passive exercise helps patients recover from paralysis by stimulating neuroplasticity. This is the mechanism the brain uses to rewire and heal itself after injury. It’s the key to recovery.

Stroke survivors that have partial movement, and wish to improve more, can continue with active exercise. This means doing the movement on your own without help.

Whether you are starting with no movement or partial movement, neuroplasticity is always the key; and you can encourage neuroplasticity by performing high repetition of your stroke exercises.

Repetition is how the brain perceives the need for a function, and it rewires itself accordingly. Think: practice makes perfect. You will see faster results if you practice every day instead of once per week.

With that said, let’s dig into the full-body stroke exercises. We will work from the bottom up, starting with the legs.

Stroke Recovery Exercises for Legs

Follow along to these leg exercises with Liliana, DPT, in our YouTube video above.

Stroke exercises for the legs can help survivors improve their gait (manner of walking) and balance. Training the legs can also help reduce the risk of falling, which is a priority for all stroke survivors

Knee Extensions

physical therapist showing stroke exercises
end position for stroke exercises for legs

For this leg exercise, 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).

Seated Marching

physical therapist showing seated leg rehab exercise
ending position for seated leg rehab exercise

For this stroke recovery 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.

Ankle Dorsiflexion Exercise

stroke exercises for legs and feet
physical therapist showing foot drop stroke 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, thus making it a passive exercise.

See all leg exercises for stroke patients »

Want 25 pages of stroke recovery exercises in PDF form? Click here to download our free Stroke Rehab Exercise ebook now (link opens a pop up for uninterrupted reading)

Stroke Exercises for Balance and Core

In our YouTube video above, physical therapist Cassie demonstrates stroke rehab exercises that target the trunk for improved balance. Balance exercises help improve core stability and gait, while reducing the risk of falling.

Trunk Rotation (Twists)

physical therapist twisting for stroke exercise demo

This particular stroke exercise 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.

Knee to Chest Movement

physical therapist lying down showing stroke rehab exercises for core

The next two stroke exercises require some core strength. If your lower back starts to lift up off the floor, skip these movements until you’re ready.

For the knee-to-chest movement, start from a comfortable lying position, and then bring your right leg into your chest. At the top, give your core squeeze, then bring your leg back down. Try your best to initiate the movement from your core instead of your leg. Repeat on each leg a total of 10 times.

Toe Tap Core Exercise

physical therapist showing advanced stroke exercise for core stability

Lie down on your back and then lift your legs up with your knees bent 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 and focus on initiating the movement from your core not your legs. If your lower back starts to lift up off the floor, skip this exercise until you develop more strength.

See all trunk/core exercises for stroke patients »

Stroke Rehab Exercises for Arms

Watch Barbara, OTA, demonstrate these arm exercises for stroke patients in our YouTube video above.

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 stroke recovery exercises into your daily regimen.

Tabletop Circle Exercise

occupational therapist with tabletop stroke exercise
ot stroke rehab exercises

Lace your fingers together and wrap both hands around a water bottle. By engaging both sides of the body, this exercise becomes a bilateral movement, which is helpful during stroke recovery because it stimulates both sides of the brain.

With your fingers laced around the bottle, begin to make large circular movements. You can use your non-affected arm to guide your affected arm through this exercise. Make 10 slow, controlled circles.

Unweighted Bicep Curls

occupational therapist showing arm exercise
ot/pt stroke rehab exercises

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. Because this recovery exercise is unweighted, it’s not intended to build strength. Rather, it’s intended to stimulate the brain and activate neuroplasticity.

Open Arm Exercise

stroke exercises for home therapy
ot showing at-home stroke exercise

For this last arm recovery exercise, hold a water bottle with your affected hand and keep your elbows close to your sides. Then, open your arms up so that your forearms come out to your sides while keeping your elbows pinned to your side. Return to center and slowly repeat 10 times.

See all arm exercises for stroke patients »

Stroke Exercises for Shoulders and Upper Extremity

Shoulder rehab exercises after stroke can help improve and prevent painful conditions like shoulder subluxation and frozen shoulder.

It’s important to practice these exercises with great care because the shoulder is a vulnerable joint susceptible to injury. Never exercise to the point of pain, and check with your therapist before attempting these exercises on your own at home.

Weight Bearing Lean

physical therapist showing easy stroke exercises

For this passive 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.

Tabletop Lateral Pushing Exercise

pt stroke exercise for upper extremity

This exercise is more active. Start by placing a water bottle on a table. Then push it laterally across the table using the back of your hand. Once you’ve slid it across, place the front of your hand around the bottle and push it back to the starting position.

Avoid hiking your shoulder during these upper extremity exercises. This is called synergistic movement and it should decrease as your mobility improves.

Tabletop Forward Pushing Exercise

This exercise is similar to the last, but instead of pushing the bottle laterally, you will push it forward away from your body. Once you have completed one repetition, bring the bottle back to the starting position and repeat again. Remember to keep your forearm on the table and avoid elevating your shoulder.

See all shoulder exercises for stroke patients »

Stroke Exercises for Wrists, Hands, and Fingers

In our YouTube video above, watch Barbara, OTA, demonstrate a few helpful hand exercises for stroke recovery. You will also find written guidance below.

We provided more exercises for the hand than the other muscle groups because hand function can be “stubborn” and slow to return. This provides even more reason to practice your stroke exercises with consistency and high repetition.

The first three exercises are passive, making them great for anyone with no movement in their hand. If you have existing movement, these first few exercises make a great warm up.

Hand Surface Stretch

If your fingers are curled or your hand is clenched in a fist, start by stretching your hand open over your thigh or an exercise ball. This 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.

Never stretch to the point of pain.

Wrist Bend Movement

ot showing hand exercises for stroke patients
at home exercises for stroke patients

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.

Wrist Side Movement

hand stroke physiotherapy exercises
stroke rehabilitation exercises at home

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.

Wrist Curl Exercise

physical therapist showing stroke recovery exercises
stroke exercises for wrists

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.

The water bottle adds some weight to this recovery exercise. If necessary, you can skip it until your strength and mobility improves.

Hand Rolling Movement

gentle stroke physiotherapy exercises
physiotherapy exercises for stroke recovery

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.

Pen Spin (Advanced)

advanced stroke recovery exercises
stroke recovery exercises

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 difficult, so proceed if you are challenged but not frustrated by it.

See all hand exercises for stroke patients »

Stroke Recovery Exercises for Paralysis

To recover from post-stroke paralysis, 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 create your own paralysis recovery exercises by doing any movement from this guide passively.

Below, you’ll find specific stroke exercises that are helpful for paralysis recovery.

Palm Up and Down (Hands)

stroke recovery exercises for paralysis
stroke rehabilitation exercises for hemiplegia

Place your affected 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 to flip your palm up and down a total of 10 times.

While this exercise may seem simple, it provides stimulation to the brain and encourages neuroplasticity. If your affected hand has no movement, it’s a great way to promote recovery.

Cane Stretch (Arm)

stroke exercises for all levels

Place your affected hand on a cane with your non-affected hand on top. Then, slowly and gently 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.

This stroke exercise helps provide stimulation to your affected side along with some weight bearing. You can do this during your daily stroke exercise routine and all throughout the day when you are seated with a cane nearby.

Lying Rotation (Core)

pt stroke exercises for hemiplegia
physical therapist lying demonstrating easy stroke exercises for hemiplegia

You will 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.

See more stroke paralysis exercises »

How Many Repetitions Is Ideal?

Evidence shows that higher doses of therapy lead to better outcomes after stroke. Therefore, between sessions with your therapist, it’s important to exercise on your own at home. But how much?

On average, survivors accomplish about 32 repetitions during a typical therapy session. This low dose of therapy simply isn’t enough, and this is where at-home rehab technology can help.

For instance, Flint Rehab’s FitMi home therapy device transforms 40 classic physical therapy exercises into an engaging game. It helps survivors with limited mobility accomplish an average of 400 repetitions in half an hour.

graph with conventional treatment (32) and FitMi treatment (400)

*Based off of averages in a usability study with 22 stroke survivors.
Conventional treatment based off values from this study.

That was just the moderate end, too. Patients with higher ability levels accomplished over 1,600 repetitions in that half hour. Can you imagine how much movement you could recover with that much stimulation on a daily basis?

For an example, check out Ron’s FitMi success story, where he saw movement return to his paralyzed arm within three weeks of using FitMi for passive exercise.

At first he saw twitches in his affected arm, which may not seem like much to a bystander; but any survivor with post-stroke paralysis knows the significance of small, incremental improvements.

Creating Your Stroke Rehab Exercise Program

Whether you use engaging rehab technology like FitMi or follow along to our popular YouTube videos with stroke exercises, try your best to accomplish high repetition on a daily basis.

If you are starting with no movement, you can practice your exercises passively. This helps stimulate the brain and promote recovery. If you already have some movement, you can exercise actively to promote even more functional gains.

For a beautifully illustrated version of this exercise guide, download our free ebook below. It contains all these stroke exercises and more.

Keep it Going: Get a Free Rehab Exercise Ebook (25 page PDF)

cover and pages from stroke rehab exercise ebook by Flint Rehab

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Get Inspired with This Stroke Survivor Story

Mom gets better every day!

When my 84-year-old Mom had a stoke on May 2, the right side of her body was rendered useless. In the past six months, she has been blessed with a supportive medical team, therapy team, and family team that has worked together to gain remarkable results.

While she still struggles with her right side, she can walk (with assistance) and is beginning to get her right arm and hand more functional. We invested in the FitMi + MusicGlove + Tablet bundle for her at the beginning of August.

She lights up when we bring it out and enjoys using it for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time. While she still doesn’t have enough strength to perform some of the exercises, she rocks the ones she can do!

Thanks for creating such powerful tools to help those of us caring for stroke patients. What you do really matters!

David M. Holt’s review of FitMi home therapy, 11/09/2020

5 stars

More Ways to Recover with Flint Rehab:

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cover and pages from stroke rehab exercise ebook by Flint Rehab

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