A stroke happens when blood flow to your brain is decreased or stopped. Many people need physical therapy following a stroke to help improve their ability to move and become more independent.

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A stroke occurs when the blood flow to your brain is interrupted. This lack of blood flow deprives your brain cells of the oxygen they need to live.

Depending on where in your brain the stroke occurs, it can affect many parts of your body. More than 40% of stroke survivors have trouble with movement or other neurological functions.

Physical therapy, also sometimes known as physiotherapy, is one of the main rehabilitation therapies used to decrease disability and improve movement after a stroke. During physical therapy, your therapist uses treadmill training, strengthening, and a variety of other techniques to help you improve your movement.

In this article, we examine how physical therapy can help you recover from a stroke and what you can expect during your treatment.

Learn more about stroke.

Physical therapy is the main rehabilitation therapy for most people who have a stroke.

According to a 2022 research review, about 40% of people who have a stroke have functional impairment of their movement. The long-term goal of stroke rehabilitation is to help you become as independent as possible.

Undergoing physical therapy can potentially help you regain:

  • strength
  • mobility
  • coordination
  • balance
  • proprioception (your sense of self-movement)

Research from 2017 suggests that doing intensive physical therapy shortly after a stroke is associated with decreased death rates and reduced complications. People who undergo continuous professional therapy tend to recover rapidly.

Physical therapy can help you regain movement patterns such as:

  • walking
  • sitting
  • lying down
  • standing
  • getting out of a chair

Physical therapists use many techniques to help you regain movement after a stroke. Your program will be customized to your individual needs depending on factors such as:

  • your overall health
  • the type of movement you’ve lost
  • your degree of disability

Stroke rehabilitation usually starts in the hospital shortly after your stroke. At first, the program might focus on simple tasks like trying to pick up an object. Over time, your program may progress to help you relearn more complex motor tasks like walking.

Once you’re discharged from the hospital, your healthcare team will likely continue to recommend physical therapy either at home or at a clinic. Your physical therapist will typically give you exercises and stretches to do at home to help with your recovery.

Physical therapists use different techniques to help you recover. These include:

  • task-oriented training, where you go through real-life motions, such as getting up from a chair
  • strength training using weights, your body weight, or bands
  • walking or balance training
  • treadmill training
  • constraint-induced movement therapy, where your strong arm is constrained so you’re forced to use your weak arm
  • electrical stimulation to activate the nerves of your injured muscles
  • virtual reality or video game tools
  • biofeedback, which aims to help you gain control over your mind-body connection
  • aquatic therapy, where you do exercises in the water

In a 2020 review of studies, researchers found some evidence suggesting that aquatic therapy may be able to significantly improve a wide range of stroke-induced disabilities. However, the researchers noted that although the research is promising, more evidence is needed.

In addition to helping you regain lost movement, your physical therapist can also:

  • fit you for braces, a wheelchair, or other mobility aids
  • teach you how to use these mobility devices
  • provide training to your family or caregiver

If you’re in stable condition, you may be able to start physical therapy as soon as 2 days after your stroke.

In a 2017 study, researchers found that in a group of 783 people admitted to one hospital with stroke, 75.8% were referred to physical therapy. The average time from admission to the hospital to getting a referral for physical therapy was 3 days.

According to the National Institutes of Health, adding intensive motor rehabilitation after 60–90 days to your standard rehab therapy may help improve outcomes.

The duration that you need to do physical therapy depends on the severity of your stroke and your level of disability. You may need to do physical therapy for months to years.

The most rapid recovery usually occurs within the first 3–4 months.

Typically, you’ll do several sessions per week.

Depending on the extent and complications of your stroke, you may have to do other types of rehabilitation therapy. According to the American Stroke Association, more than two-thirds of stroke survivors do some type of rehabilitation therapy.

Other types of therapy you may benefit from include:

Learn more about stroke recovery.

Physical therapy is an important part of the rehabilitation process for many people who have had a stroke. It can potentially help you improve your recovery and minimize your disability.

During physical therapy, a therapist uses a variety of techniques to help you regain your ability to move, such as strengthening exercises, treadmill training, or having you perform everyday activities.

Your healthcare team can help you decide how long and how many times per week you should attend physical therapy.