Having a stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in America, and about 800,000 people have a stroke every year. Causing damage to the brain and weakening the messages your ears, eyes, and muscles send to the neurological system, strokes can drastically affect a person’s balance. While the brain can begin to repair itself and help you regain balance and coordination in the process, residual balance problems can occur.
For stroke survivors who engage in physical therapy, the work doesn’t stop as soon as you leave the sessions. It is integral to work on your stability at home to accelerate the rehabilitation process. Balance and strength need to be relearned after a stroke, and that means you have to possess the will to improve your condition.
There are many at-home exercises stroke survivors can do to naturally improve balance. It is important to start with basic exercises at first. Even though they are simple, they require strong neurological connections to execute properly. Repeating them every day helps to build these connections to restore balance and strength. Before taking part in these exercises, talk to your physical therapist or medical professional about your plans.
Exercise #1: Heel Raises
This exercise requires support, so find a sturdy countertop or chair that can hold your weight. Face the chair or countertop, stand up straight, and keep your feet together. Holding onto the chair or countertop, raise up onto your tiptoes and keep your knees and back straight. Slowly lower yourself back onto your heals. Do three sets of ten reps.
Exercise #2: Ankle Circles
Sitting in a chair with your legs extended in front of you, rotate your ankles in circles. Rotate both ankles clockwise and counterclockwise. If this is too difficult, practice pointing and flexing your feet. This works to increase ankle flexibility, which in turn helps increase overall stability. If you use an AFO or have foot drop, sit with one leg up on the opposite thigh and rotate your ankle with your hands to relieve stiffness.
Exercise #3: Stand On A Pillow
Propioseption is the body’s ability to perceive spatial relationships. It also happens to be one of the three pillars of balance. Standing on a pillow, couch cushion, or small pile of towels and rocking back and forth is a great way to compromise firm footing. If you feel unstable, stand with your back in a corner and put a sturdy chair in front of you. You can catch yourself with either the wall or chair if you feel unstable.
As you progress with your recovery, you can continue to challenge yourself with more difficult exercises. You can practice things like heel-to-toe walking, squatting against a gym ball, single leg standing, and walking backwards. We hope these exercises help improve balance and strength in stroke survivors.