Strokes attack the portions of your brain that control movement and balance, often rendering one side of your body weak or paralyzed. A proper battery of evaluation techniques, exercises and stretching of your body's affected side retrains your brain and strengthens affected muscles, restoring balance when standing, moving and performing everyday activities.
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Before you begin an exercise program following a stroke, a doctor may evaluate your readiness for exercise and determine the parts of your body most in need of exercise or physical therapy. The Long Beach-based Balance and Vestibular Center, for example, uses a machine known as the Balance Master to achieve this, according to the American Stroke Association. Stroke patients stand on the machine's series of moving platforms. The way you move and the way your body responds to the machine's movement helps your doctor determine the types of exercise you require for recovery.
Doctors and therapists often prescribe strength and resistance training, including varying levels of weight lifting, to help stroke patients regain use of affected limbs. A recent study noted by the American Heart Association showed twice-weekly resistance-training programs increased the leg strength of stroke victims by 68 percent, improving their overall balance. Bench leg presses, which allow you work out your legs from a seated position, offer weight-training alternatives if you have trouble standing during stroke rehabilitation, according to the American Council on Exercise, or ACE.
Not all balance exercises for stroke patients involve high-tech gym equipment. In "Stroke Connection Magazine," physical therapist Sapan Palkhiwala notes that repeatedly using a stroke-affected arm in everyday activities, such as reaching for and picking up a glass of water, helps restore balance in stroke survivors. Palkhiwala also notes that, under the supervision of a therapist, using the back of a chair can increase your balance following a stroke. While you hold on to the back of the chair, you practice moving your shoulders and hips from side to side and forward and backward. The exercise forces you to straighten and use muscles from your affected side.
Retraining your brain and muscles for proper posture is essential to regaining proper balance, according to ACE. One posture-building exercise requires that you lie on your back with bent knees so your feet are flat on the floor. You then move your knees gently from side to side. Looking up or straight ahead during activities also helps combine vision with movement, increasing overall balance.
Maintaining flexibility is paramount to proper balance following strokes. According to ACE, stretching affected limbs and joints remains important even when function of the joints or limbs is minimal soon after a stroke. Using a healthy hand to move an affected limb or joint helps maintain flexibility throughout the recovery process.