Physical Therapy For Your Arm And Hand After A Stroke

Posted on: 13 October 2015

Your doctor will start you on physical therapy as soon as possible after you've had a stroke. Keeping the arm and hand muscles flexible is an important step to regaining function in that affected side. The longer the muscles go unused, the harder it is to gain back the use of your arm. Here is what to expect from your physical therapy after having a stroke.

The Good and Bad of Compensation

Typically with a stroke, one side is affected and the other functions normally. People recovering from a stroke will begin to favor the "good" arm and ignore the affected arm. This compensation behavior causes the muscles in the affected arm to atrophy and contract. When this happens, the arm draws in on itself, and the hand curls up. This can result in a painful situation. Focusing on the affected arm and hand with physical therapy and utilizing them as much as you can will prevent the painful muscle atrophy from happening.

Muscle Stretching

The first phase of your physical therapy is to slowly stretch out all of muscles in the affected arm and hand. Keeping the muscles as flexible as possible allows you to use that arm to help with daily activities. Because you have little control over that side, the exercises have to be done passively with you or the therapist working with that arm. Some of the exercises the physical therapist will have you do include:

  • Stretch the fingers out on the affected hand as far as they will go and hold for several seconds.
  • Rotate each finger through it's normal range of motion.
  • Bend the wrist back and forth as far as it will go comfortably.
  • Extend the elbow out as far as it will go then bend it back.

Functional Exercises

You'll continue doing the stretching exercises the rest of your life to keep the affected arm and hand flexible. The next phase of physical therapy is to incorporate your affected arm and hand in daily activities. This strengthens the arm so it can be even more useful to you. The functional exercises may seem trivial, but they are oriented toward getting your arm accustomed to moving certain ways.

  • Grasp a drawer handle and open and close the drawer several times.
  • Hold a lightweight tote bag with the affected hand and carry it across the room.
  • Place a light object in the bag and carry it across the room.
  • Use the affected hand to squeeze toothpaste onto a toothbrush.
  • Turn the knobs that control the burners on the stove on and off with the affected hand.

These activities develop brain, nerve and muscle coordination to help you make the most use of your arm and hand after your stroke.