Stroke is a medical emergency that affects thousands of Canadians each year. Whether due to internal bleeding or a blockage, stroke damages and kills brain tissue. Depending on where the damage occurs, and its extent, stroke can be fatal, but recent advances in the emergency treatment of stroke have greatly increased our chances of surviving one. (1.)
However, survival alone is not enough: 400,000 Canadians live with long term disabilities from stroke. (2.)
These disabilities can include weakness, poor control of movements, paralysis, memory and thinking problems, speech and communication problems, poor control of emotional expression, swallowing problems, altered perception of one’s body, or of everyday objects, reduced peripheral vision. The impact of stroke on our ability to function normally can’t be under-estimated, so it’s really worth taking note of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s advice about how to reduce the risk of stroke through healthy directions in lifestyle. (2.)
Physiotherapy is a key resource for anyone battling the physical effects of stroke, and outcomes are better if clients are admitted for rehabilitation within 30 days of having a first one-sided stroke. (3.)
Treatment approaches vary, and each person’s stroke is a unique challenge that requires highly customized intervention, but the aim is always the same. Physiotherapists and other rehab professionals, like Occupational Therapists and Speech and Language Pathologists, strive to maximize independent function by tapping into the vast potential of the human brain, so that it may learn to take on functions that the damaged tissue can no longer handle.
The stroke survivor who is unaware of one half of their body, or who has low muscle tone in one leg and arm will have a treatment program aimed at reconnecting those pathways into the brain. Using weight -bearing, stimulation of weak muscles, repetitive exercises, and functional activity, the physiotherapist can help the person become more aware of what their body is doing, and how to correct imbalances in posture and muscle tone. Whatever the stroke’s effects, physiotherapy is a proven and trusted tool for the hard job that lies ahead. There are several approaches and many techniques available, and your Physiotherapist will select the most appropriate for you. Here are a few examples
· The Bobath/Neurodevelopmental approach uses specialised handling techniques to help restore movement. This means that functional activities such as walking or dressing can be done more independently.
· Constraint Induced Movement Therapy
This is therapy works by restricting the good side so that the affected side is forced to re-learn movement. It has been shown to be successful with mild to moderate stroke survivors.
· Task –Specific Training, (practice of a specific task in a real life setting, Functional Electrical Stimulation, Treadmill training and Body Weight Support training may all be used to improve gait quality, speed and distance.
What has your experience been? Do you have any tips that would help other stroke survivors? We’d love to hear from you.
R. Sian Owen PT