Physical Therapy for Stroke Survivors
What a Physical Therapist Does
A physical therapist treats a person to relieve pain, build up and restore muscle function, and maintain the best possible performance. The therapist does this by using physical means such as active and passive exercise, massage, heat, water, and electricity. Broadly speaking, a physical therapist:
- sets up the goals of treatment with patient and family
- shows how to use special equipment
- instructs in routine daily functions
- teaches safe ways to move
- sets up and teaches an exercise program
NOTE: The American Physical Therapy Association, often located in the state capital, can provide a list of licensed therapists.
What a Physical Therapist Determines
Depending on a person's physical condition, a therapist may work on range-of-motion exercises, correct body positions when resting, devices to help the person in your care, and other simple ways to improve daily functions. A physical therapist checks things that can affect a person's daily activities:
- the person's attitude toward his situation
- how well he can move his muscles and joints (range of motion)
- his ability to see, smell, hear, and feel
- what he can do on his own and what he needs to learn
- his equipment needs, now and in the future
- what can be improved in the home to make moving around safer and more comfortable
- who can and will help to give support
Range-of-Motion (ROM) Exercises
The purpose of range-of-motion exercises is to relieve pain, maintain normal body alignment (positions), help prevent skin swelling and breakdown, and promote bone formation. A ROM exercise program should be started before deformities develop. Here are some things to do when you are asked to help with exercises at home:
- Communicate what you are doing.
- Use the flats of both hands, not the fingertips, to hold a body part.
- Take each movement only as far as the joint will go into a comfortable stretch. (Mild discomfort is okay, but it should go away quickly.)
- Do each exercise 3 to 5 times.
- Use slow steady movements to help relax muscles and increase joint range.
- If joints are swollen and painful, exercise very gently.
Proper Positions to Use When Resting:
- flat on the back or no more than 30° raised
- prone (lying flat) on the stomach (for up to 20 to 30 minutes only, not for sleeping)
- one-quarter left or right turn onto the back
- three-quarters right or left turn on to the stomach
- aided by special positioning devices (for example, splints for leg, foot, hand, or back support)