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How to Treat a Swollen Arm After Stroke

best ways to treat a swollen arm after stroke

A swollen arm after stroke, particularly on the affected side, is a common side effect that many stroke survivors experience.

You’re about to learn what causes a swollen arm after stroke along with 9 different ways to manage it. Let’s get started!

What Causes a Swollen Arm After Stroke?

Swelling in the arms and legs is called peripheral edema and it’s caused by fluid buildup.

Fluid buildup is most commonly the result of:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight
  • High sodium intact
  • Medication side effects
  • Blood clotting
  • Infection
  • Hot and humid weather

These issues are common after stroke, especially when patients are in the hospital. For example, bedridden stroke patients often struggle with physical inactivity, and new medications present new side effects.

Fortunately, there are ways to remedy a swollen arm after stroke.

How to Treat a Swollen Arm After Stroke

Here are methods commonly used to treat a swollen arm after stroke:

1. Increasing Physical Activity

exercises to treat swollen arm after stroke

The primary reason people experience swelling after stroke is because of physical inactivity.

When you don’t move enough, circulation is reduced, which can cause blood to pool in your arms and legs.

This is common after stroke because the lack of control on your affected side discourages you from moving it as often as you usually would.

Making an effort to be more physically active can promote circulation and reduce swelling after stroke.

Check out these arm exercises for stroke patients »

2. Reduce Salt Intake

Eating too much salt can cause your body to hold onto water, not just in your arm but throughout your entire body. Excess water causes the body to swell.

By reducing your sodium intake, you can prevent your body from storing the excess water that is causing your body to swell.

It’s also ideal for your health! Consuming too much salt can increase risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and kidney disease.

Read more about foods that are ideal for stroke recovery »

3. Drink More Water

When you’re dehydrated, your body starts retaining water because it doesn’t know when it’ll be supplied next.

When you drink enough water throughout the day, your body will understand that a constant supply is being delivered and that it does not need to store it.

4. Elevate Your Arm

One of the best things you can do to reduce swelling in your arm is to keep it elevated.

This helps manually level out blood that has pooled in the arm and redirect it back towards the center of the body.

When sleeping, try to prop your arm up on a stack of pillows to keep it elevated.

5. Wear Compression Garments

A compression sleeve is tightly worn on your arm to help reduce swelling.

Because it is so tight, it continually squeezes the surface of the skin, which promotes circulation.

They’re designed to fit tighter towards the end of the arm so that blood is encouraged to flow towards the center of the body.

6. Get an Arm Massage

massage to treat swollen arm after stroke


Massage helps stimulate blood flow, which can reduce swelling in the arm.

Applying gentle pressure on the skin in upwards movements, towards the center of your body can help stimulate the lymphatic system and remove excess fluids that have built up in your tissues.

7. Take Water Pills

Water pills are also known as diuretics.

They help the kidneys get rid of excess water, which can help reduce swelling in the arm after stroke.

Make sure to ask a doctor if it is safe to use water pills for your specific condition, and what dosage you should use.

Some medications don’t mix well together and can cause adverse side effects.

8. Practice Passive Range of Motion Exercises

After a stroke, it can be difficult to be active. Some stroke survivors may not even be able to control their movements on their affected side.

Passive range of motion exercises are exercises that don’t require energy exertion from the affected side.

Simply use your unaffected hand to move your affected side and stimulate circulation.

Although active exercise is ideal, any sort of movement can help improve circulation and reduce swelling after stroke.

See passive range of motion exercises for stroke patients »

9. Stay Cool

In hot and humid weather, your blood vessels will expand (vasodilation).

This occurs so that the heat in blood can be closer to the surface of the skin, where it can be lost to the environment.

Staying cool and avoiding extreme weather can help prevent vasodilation and reduce swelling.

Should You Worry About a Swollen Arm After Stroke?

is it normal for your arm  to swell after stroke


If you notice swelling after stroke, get it checked out by a medical professional.

Although swelling is generally easy to treat and not worrisome, it can also be caused by serious conditions like blood clotting.

If left unmanaged, swelling can restrict range of motion, cause pain, and cut off blood flow.

Typically, a combination of treatments is the most effective way to manage swelling, so don’t hesitate to go through some trial and error.

Hopefully, this article helped you better understand what’s causing your swollen arm after stroke and what you can do to treat it.

Featured image: © Suriya

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See how Susan is recovering from post-stroke paralysis

“I had a stroke five years ago causing paralysis on my left side which remains today.

I recently began using FitMi.

At first it was difficult for me to be successful with a few of the exercises but the more I use it, the better my scores become.

I have recently had some movement in my left arm that I did not have before.

I don’t know if I can directly relate this to the use of the FitMi but I am not having occupational therapy so I conclude that it must be benefiting me.

The therapy modality motivates me to use it daily and challenges me to compete against my earlier scores.

I heartily recommend it!-Susan, stroke survivor

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