Stroke rehabilitation exercises for the leg

A stroke is a life-changing experience and stroke patients can experience significant problems with one or both of their legs following a stroke.

The statistics are sobering, with one study showing that approximately 35% of stroke patients with initial paralysis of the leg do not regain useful function, while 20-25% are unable to walk without full physical assistanceª.

How a stroke can affect your leg

It is important to receive effective rehabilitation for any leg difficulties caused by stroke, as a lack of treatment can cause long term damage such as permanently shortened muscles.

Muscle weakness: Often people experience a significant weakness in the muscles of their leg, causing poor balance and/or reduced mobility.

Contraction/spasm of muscles: As well as causing muscle weakness, a stroke can also cause muscles in the leg to contract or go into spasm for long periods of time. When this occurs, it is referred to as muscle tightness or muscle spasticity.

Sensation problems: A stroke can cause difficulties in the sensation in your leg and foot which can affect balance and mobility.

Proprioception problems: As well as potentially causing problems with the feeling in your leg and foot, a stroke can cause problems with proprioception (the ability to know where your body is without looking). This can also cause balance and mobility problems.

Assessment

When our physiotherapist is working with you to restore function in your leg, they will begin by giving you a full assessment. This assessment may look at:

  • Sensation
  • Movement
  • Proprioception
  • Function and mobility

Some stroke patients will experience a decline in all of these areas within the affected leg, while others may experience a decline in only one or two.

Neglect of leg

Our physiotherapist will also look at whether you are neglecting the affected leg. When recovering from a stroke, it is common for people who are experiencing a weakness or numbness in their leg not to use it as much as usual. In more severe cases a patient sometimes may not realise their affected leg even exists.

What will rehabilitation for a leg involve?

Your leg rehabilitation will be led by a Circle Rehabilitation physiotherapist. After assessing the extent of any loss of function in your leg, a comprehensive rehabilitation exercise programme will be created, tailored specifically for you. This may include:

Movement: Your leg will be expertly moved in certain ways to ensure range of motion is maximised even if you are unable to move it properly yourself. You may also be given specific leg movements to practice unaided, if you are able to do so.

Treadmills: we have a number of different types of treadmills available to help your leg muscles adapt and strengthen. As well as traditional treadmills, we are also able to offer:

  • AlterG anti-gravity treadmill
  • Hydro Physio: this is a walk-in unit with an integrated treadmill which can be filled with water from calf- to shoulder-height. The buoyancy of the water helps to cushion weak leg muscles and reduces the load on painful or weak joints. This provides you with a safe way to regain muscle strength in your legs and confidence in standing and moving again.

Gym equipment: From a leg press to exercise bikes, we have a range of functional equipment that can help you with your leg rehabilitation.

Balance: One of the most common things affected by a stroke is balance, and so we have the Biodex Balance System SD on site to help increase balance and agility, all in a safe and effective way.

Massage: Deep pressure can be relaxing and calming, helping the central nervous system to process sensory information. A deep massage of the leg can be useful to stimulate muscles and nerves that may not be functioning as normal.

Contrast bathing: Also known as hot/cold immersion therapy, your leg is immersed in warm water, then immediately in cool water. This immersion in alternating temperatures is repeated a number of times. A change in temperature can have a positive effect on the central nervous system and even in patients who have minimal feeling in their leg this simple exercise can be of benefit. Due to the risks associated with this therapy, it is important that it is tried with a therapist initially.

Mirror therapy: A stroke will often leave weakness, partial or temporal paralysis in one side of the body. When a mirror is placed between your legs, the reflected image of a moving leg can stimulate different parts of the brain, aiding rehabilitation of the affected leg.

Virtual reality: We use Mind Motion, a state-of-the-art technology that combines neuroscience and technology to help with lower limb rehabilitation.

Contact us for help with your leg rehabilitation following a stroke  

Should you have suffered a stroke and are experiencing weakness or a loss of movement or sensation in your leg, please get in touch with us to see how we can help.

Our highly-experienced therapists, including physiotherapists and occupational therapists, will expertly guide you through training exercises, support and care tailored just for you in order to restore function in your leg.

Leg problems following a stroke can be frustrating and debilitating. Prompt, effective rehabilitation can be of enormous benefit, so please do contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

ª Rehabilitation after Stroke, B. Dobkin, New England Journal of Medicine, 21 April 2005

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