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How physios help people recover from stroke

Physiotherapist Evelyn with Toni, who is recovering from a stroke.

The following blog was written by David McKenzie, Physiotherapist, Frankston Community Rehabilitation Program, Golf Links Road Rehabilitation Centre.  

Recovering from a stroke can be an immense challenge.  From complete independence: going to work; running a household; gardening; travelling, playing sport; driving a car, to lying in a hospital bed: unable to move one side of the body; unable to make oneself understood; requiring assistance to go to the toilet. Stroke has the capacity to change a person’s life in an instant.

Many aspects of a person’s life are made easier when we are up and walking about and able to use both hands and arms to complete normal daily tasks. Helping recover these abilities is the role of the physiotherapist and occupational therapist, as part of the wider team caring for this person. Physiotherapists use the individual’s own goals to inform the rehabilitation process.  Following stroke most people are very motivated to walk again. Getting people up on their feet is a great way to start this process. With a physiotherapist’s guidance and a safe practise environment, most people can make their first steps toward a return to mobility in the first days following stroke.

Physiotherapists also see people following stroke who have little or no movement in their upper limb. The movement of the arm and hand will then often be the focus of their rehabilitation. These individuals can make excellent recoveries.

A person’s own drive and desire has been shown to be one of the most important ingredients in the recipe for optimising recovery following stroke. An individual with stroke recently wrote, “Do all the exercises you are given – if you’re told to do them three times, do them four.” Another uses the catchcry, “Just get on with it”.

One of our most important roles as physiotherapists is to encourage the individual to stay committed to this most difficult of processes. Carefully planning rehabilitation to bring about the continuous attainment of small goals from day to day is an important strategy. Stroke Groups, where exercises are completed together in a group setting, show the individual that he or she is not alone in the journey, whilst also providing the opportunity to see how people progress at different rates and through different stages of their recovery.

One more important way recovery is achieved is by utilising the amazing capacity of the human brain and body to learn.  Most of us will never tap the untold capacities of our physical abilities. We recognise these incredible abilities in Olympic athletes, ballet dancers and acrobats. Perhaps people recovering from stroke also comfortably sit in this company.

David McKenzie.