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After a stroke, a person may have trouble using all or part of the body. Often the arm and leg on one side are weak, numb, or stiff. Improving posture, range of motion, and strength are early goals. Together, the rehab team helps the patient progress from sitting to standing and walking.
Proper positioning helps patients to regain lost movement. It also limits future problems. Correct body posture keeps a patient from slumping. Proper positioning of arms and legs is needed, too. This prevents muscles near the joints from tightening (spasticity). Good body position is vital for patients who have weakness on one side of the body (hemiparesis). Proper positioning is also important for those who have lost awareness of one side of the body (called neglect).
Getting the patient out of bed is the next step. Physical therapists may start by gently moving the patient’s limbs each day. Simple stretches may help relax muscles that tighten or spasm. The patient may be taught how to increase strength and range of motion. Many exercises prepare patients to do tasks. For instance, working to bring a hand to the mouth prepares a patient to use a fork or a toothbrush.
At first, your loved one may be able to stand only briefly. If the legs are weakened by the stroke or from disuse, holding on to parallel bars may help. Leaning against a counter or a walker can also help the patient stand longer. He or she can prepare to relearn walking by shifting weight from one foot to the other.
Most patients do walk again after having a stroke. Your loved one may start by walking between parallel bars. Some patients use walkers for support. Others learn to use a cane. To help improve walking skills, some patients may use a special type of treadmill or other equipment. Gradually walking farther and faster may help your loved one recover more completely.
Ask the team how you can help. They may have you:
Align your loved one’s head, shoulders, and hips.
Support a limp arm, or gently straighten curling fingers.
Keep the person’s feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.
Approach from the patient’s good side when talking and handing your loved one items.
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