At a meeting held at the World Congress on Healthy Ageing in Glasgow, UK in August 2012, The UK Stroke and Exercise Forum collectively agreed that there is a great deal of evidence to prove that stroke survivors should be encouraged to become (or remain) physically active after their stroke.
Many members of the Forum were keen to stress that physiotherapists, doctors and even members of the public need to be better educated about the benefits of a pre-tailored exercise programme for stroke survivors. So, what are the medical advantages of engaging in physical exercise therapy after a stroke, and what techniques could prove to be most beneficial for the patient?
Assessing the Patient’s Needs
Before putting together an exercise programme, it’s important to determine whether the patient was mildly or moderately affected by the stroke. Doing so will outline the types of exercises and stretches that need to be incorporated into the patient’s schedule.
Mild sufferers are generally able to control their movement and can walk with little assistance. Rehabilitative therapy for such patients may focus on retaining balance and returning the patient to more normal patterns of movement.
Moderate sufferers may use a wheelchair in everyday situations and may find it more difficult to walk unaided. Patients of this level of disability will need help improving their overall balance and coordination and in retraining their motion and sensation in the affected side.
What A Post-Stroke Exercise Programme Needs To Address
Post-stroke exercise therapy needs to predominantly address the body’s structure and function. Brain damage caused by a stroke can contribute to paralysis in the muscles, so an effective programme will seek to restore strength to muscles and combat loss of movement within the affected area. Range of motion exercises and gentle stretches can often help to treat spasticity, another condition often inducted by a stroke that stiffens muscles and subjects the sufferer to painful spasms.
Mild cardiovascular exercise will often help. Short walks and swims are beneficial if the patient can access pool facilities. If they have restricted movement, however, less strenuous rehabilitative exercises can also be undertaken while the individual is seated.
Exercise therapists must always remain wary of the fact that stroke sufferers may be more susceptible to fatigue. They should also regularly check the individual for swelling, pressure marks and reddened areas on the affected side after periods of exercise, as sensation here may be poor and potential injuries may go unnoticed by the patient.
Aiding Stroke Prevention through Physical Activity
It has to be noted that, in many cases, the patient’s previous lifestyle factors could have contributed to their stroke. It’s well known that individuals who suffer from hypertension, abnormal blood lipids, diabetes mellitus or are obese, are more at risk of succumbing to coronary artery disease or ischemic stroke, as are those that smoke cigarettes. Physical activity in any form can improve the general health and wellbeing by improving blood circulation, lowering cholesterol levels and keeping underlying conditions such as diabetes in check. This in turn will reduce the chances of a stroke.
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