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Walking After Stroke: How to Maximize Your Chances of Recovery

physiotherapist encouraging stroke patient to walk forward with crutches

Walking after stroke is a popular goal in physical therapy for obvious reasons. Regaining the ability walk increases feelings of independence and makes it easier to accomplish everyday tasks.

When walking becomes difficult after stroke, rehabilitation is required to retrain the brain how to control movement.

In this article, you’ll discover encouraging statistics about walking after stroke, along with ways to maximize your chances of recovery.

What Are the Chances of Walking After a Stroke?

Although it’s impossible to say whether or not a stroke patient will be able to walk again, experts can agree that the chances of recovery increase with the intensity of rehabilitation.

For instance, one study followed 51 stroke patients that could not walk 3 months post-stroke. After 2 years of long-term rehabilitation, researchers found that 74% of patients had regained their capacity to walk without assistance.

This shows that there is a good chance of walking again after stroke, especially when rehabilitation is pursued. When rehabilitation is not pursued, the recovery outlook changes.

A sobering study found that stroke patients without rehabilitation regressed significantly. Their level of mobility measured 5 years post-stroke was equivalent to the level measured just 2 months post-stroke.

Researchers stated that a lack of post-acute therapy ultimately caused the plateau. This demonstrates a clear need for additional rehabilitation after discharge from inpatient therapy.

Fortunately, when rehabilitation is pursued beyond the 2 month mark and continues for as long as there are changes in function, the outcome is much brighter.

If you’re interested in walking again after stroke, the rest of this article will explain what your rehab plan should entail.

7 Steps to Start Walking Again After Stroke

Every stroke is different, and therefore every recovery will be different. Stroke patients should pursue and experiment with different methods for rehabilitation until they find what works for them.

You’re about to learn various tips to improve the gait rehabilitation process. Once you find what works for you, continue so that you can maximize your chances of walking again.

Here are some of the best gait rehabilitation methods for walking after stroke:

1. Take advantage of resources during inpatient rehab

After stroke, patients often spend time at an inpatient rehab facility where they participate in multiple therapies to address walking, self-care, hand function, and speech.

One advantage of inpatient rehab is access to a dedicated team of therapists and multiple types of rehab equipment, like assistive treadmills and parallel bars. This equipment makes task-specific training possible, even with severe impairments.

In the video below, you can see how intensive inpatient rehabilitation can be, as 3 therapists work with 1 patient on an assistive treadmill:

By working with advanced equipment and a team of therapists, patients can make considerable gains with gait improvement.

2. Focus on rehab exercises for the legs

After discharge from inpatient rehab, it is time for you to take charge of your recovery. One of the best ways to continue healing is to continue outpatient therapy and a rehab exercise regimen at home.

Rehab exercises are geared towards retraining the brain how to control your muscles. In order to retrain the brain, you need to practice the desired movement with intense repetition.

This is where at-home rehab exercises come into play. Ask your therapist to recommend exercises to improve your ability to walk. Your therapist will likely provide you with a sheet of leg exercises.

For example, a helpful leg exercise for gait rehabilitation is seated marching. See a physical therapist performing the movement below:

physical therapist sitting in chair
therapist lifting one leg up using her arms to help

If you cannot lift your leg, then you can use your arms to help. This is called passive exercise, and it helps rewire the brain just like active exercise.

See all leg exercises for stroke patients »

3. Don’t forget about balance and core exercises

A strong core is essential for maintaining balance while you walk. Along with your leg exercises, plan to incorporate more rehab exercises that target your core, too.

One example is leg rotation (which, despite its name, focuses on your core muscles, not your legs). See a physical therapist demonstrate this move below:

physical therapist lying on her back with legs bent
therapist letting legs fall off to the side while controlling her core muscles

Start lying on your back with your legs bent at 90 degrees. Then, let your legs fall to one side while trying your best to control the movement from your core.

Again, if you cannot do this movement, ask a caregiver or therapist for assistance to make the exercise passive. All movement is beneficial.

See all core exercises for stroke patients »

4. Incorporate foot drop exercises if necessary

Foot drop is a post-stroke condition that can make it difficult to lift the front part of your foot up — a movement known as dorsiflexion.

Coordination in the feet is essential for walking properly and safely. If foot drop is present, it should be addressed immediately.

A foot brace called “ankle foot orthotics,” or AFO, help maintain and stabilize the foot in position to prevent tripping and falling.

Rehab exercises that target the feet can help retrain the brain and improve your strength and ability to walk safely.

See all foot drop exercises »

5. Try at-home rehab exercise devices

stroke patient hitting rehab device with feet to improve gait

In the photo above, you can see a stroke patient performing seated marching exercises with Flint Rehab’s FitMi home therapy. This interactive device helps patients improve mobility by accomplishing intensive repetition, which helps rewire the brain.

FitMi can provide the feedback and motivation for success with a long-term rehabilitation plan. This is the key to regaining the ability to walk after stroke.

Check out FitMi’s reviews to see how it has helped other patients improve their walking and balance.

6. Get your vision assessed to prevent falls

Aside from mobility-boosting exercises and devices, your vision also deserves attention when it comes to gait rehabilitation.

If you have vision problems after stroke, it will negatively impact your ability to walk safely. Your vision is important for navigating the world around you and preventing falls.

Optometrists, neurologists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists are all great resources for vision improvement.

Your therapist or speech-language pathologist can also screen you for a condition called hemineglect, which can cause stroke patients to be completely unaware of their affected side. This condition must also be addressed before patients can safely walk again after stroke.

7. Enjoy task-specific training

Finally, a simple yet challenging method for relearning how to walk after stroke is task-specific training. This means directly practicing the task you want to improve: walking.

Some patients need the assistance of a walker or cane to get around safely, but task-specific movements of walking are important brain and body healing.

Hope for Walking After Stroke

The road to recovery looks different for everyone. However, recovery is possible when you put in the work.

By training alongside therapists, you can relearn how to walk again after a stroke as well as improve your gait.

Exercising on a daily schedule can give yourself the best chances of walking again after stroke.

Bonus! Get a Free Rehab Exercise Ebook (14 page PDF)

Get our free ebook filled with 14 pages of rehab exercises featuring photos of licensed therapists. Sign up below to get your copy!

When you sign up, you’ll also receive our popular Monday newsletter that contains 5 articles on stroke recovery.

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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

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