10 Exercise Safety Tips for Stroke Survivors
The process of recovery from a stroke, or Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA), is a lengthy and difficult journey. Long after your initial medical health care team has deemed you well enough to exercise on your own, you are likely dealing with paralysis or weakness on one side of the body, drop foot, a loss of sensation or weakness, and an inability to control inappropriate laughing or crying.
These issues make going to a gym or exercise class quite daunting. It is important that you make sure you educate your exercise professional on how to best meet your specific needs. For instance, you may have difficulty learning and following the exercises, which will require extra attention and a patient instructor. You may need additional postural cues, and may need special care with stretching due to stiff muscles that cannot be stretched passively.
- Work the side of your body that has been affected by the stroke by using your strong arm to move the affected arm or leg in your exercises.
- Make sure the instructor knows to always be aware of how you are positioned during seated exercises, as you may not feel if you have slipped out of a safe position.
- Always keep your affected arm in a safe position, such as on your lap. Avoid letting it hang or droop. Also, keep your feet under a chair or table, in a safe position, as you may not feel if they are in an unsafe position. Visually check on your arms and legs periodically.
- You may have difficulty with your emotions. Try to practice deep breathing in order to relax and focus.
- Be patient with yourself, and take as much time as you need when trying or learning new movements.
- Make sure you exercise both sides of the body. Exercises that coordinate the legs and arms together are especially helpful for balance.
- Ball exercises using movements such as tossing or kicking are very helpful to increase body awareness and coordination.
- Avoid positions where you have to lower your head (such as touching your toes) as this may put too much pressure on your brain.
- Use a supportive foam or pillow under your arm when sitting to keep it from hanging and becoming swollen.
- Protect your shoulders from dislocation by avoiding overhead exercises when possible.
National Stroke Association, 2014, Hope: A Stroke Recovery Guide. Pdf: http://www.stroke.org/site/DocServer/hope4.pdf?docID=524
E. Best-Martini and K.A. Jones-DiGenova, 2014, Exercise for frail elders, 2nd ed. (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics).