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. While the road to recovery is often longer for gait rehabilitation, there are ways to maximize your chances of recovery, which you’re about to learn.
In this article, you’ll discover encouraging statistics about walking after stroke, along with steps you can take to boost 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 specifically when long-term rehabilitation is pursued. When long-term rehab is not pursued, recovery is generally poor.
A sobering study found that stroke patients without long-term rehabilitation regressed significantly. Their level of mobility measured 5 years post-stroke was equivalent to the level measured just 2 months post-stroke.
Researchers speculated that a lack of post-acute therapy ultimately caused the plateau. This demonstrates a clear need for better rehabilitation after discharge from inpatient therapy. (Don’t know what inpatient rehab is? Read about the stroke recovery process.)
Fortunately, when rehabilitation is pursued beyond the 2 month mark and continues for as long as necessary, the outcome is much brighter.
If you’re interested in walking again after stroke, the rest of this article will explain what your long-term rehab plan should entail.
7 Steps to Start Walking Again After Stroke
Every stroke is different, and every recovery will be different. This makes it important for stroke patients to experiment with different methods for rehabilitation until they find one that works for them.
You’re about to learn various tips to improve the gait rehabilitation process. Once you find something that works for you, try to stick with it long-term so that you can maximize your chances of walking again.
With that said, 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 rigorous therapy.
One advantage of inpatient rehab is access to a dedicated team of therapists and expensive 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, recovery is in your hands. One of the best ways to keep recovery going is to keep going to outpatient therapy (when possible) and keep up with a rehab exercise regimen at home.
Rehab exercises differ from “normal” exercises because they do not prioritize building muscle. Instead, they are geared towards retraining the brain how to control your muscles. But 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:
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.
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, try 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:
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, that’s okay. Ask a caregiver or therapist for assistance to make the exercise passive.
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. If foot drop is present, it should be addressed immediately.
A temporary solution involves a foot brace called “ankle foot orthotics.” These braces help prop the foot up to help prevent tripping and falling.
While this does not help improve foot mobility long-term, foot drop exercises can help with that. Rehab exercises that target the feet can help retrain the brain and improve your ability to walk long term.
5. Try at-home rehab exercise devices
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 you need to stick with a long-term rehabilitation plan. As you already know, 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 deserve attention when it comes to gait rehabilitation.
Optometrists, neurologists, 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.
If you need to use a walker or cane to get around safely, that’s okay. The task-specific movements of walking are still helpful for your brain and body.
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 good therapists, you can improve your gait and relearn how to walk again after a stroke. It’s crucial to find something you can stick with long-term, because gait rehabilitation can take years to achieve.
Fortunately, if you can get yourself to exercise on a regular basis, you can give yourself the best chances of walking again after stroke.