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National Stroke Awareness Week

National Stroke Awareness Week is an annual campaign run by the Irish Heart Foundation. This year it runs from the 6th to the 12th of March, with events to raise awareness about the realities of suffering a stroke taking place across the country.

A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is cut off. This deprives the brain of oxygen, which can cause cells to die. Depending on the area of the brain that is denied oxygen, this can result in loss of mobility. Fortunately, physiotherapy can be used to address these issues and provide a higher quality of life.

Common Problems

The exact symptoms experienced after a stroke will vary considerably from person to person, depending on which area of the brain was specifically affected. That being said, there are certain symptoms that are more common than others.

Due to the nature of strokes, many of the issues experienced will be confined to one half of the body. Hemiparesis, which is weakness on one side of the body, is one such example of this. Hemiparesis is one of the most common issues after a stroke, affecting about 80% of stroke survivors. Similar problems include drooping on one side of the face, loss of vision on one side, fatigue, balance, and co-ordination issues.

How Physiotherapy Can Help

The primary goal of physiotherapy for stroke patients is to minimise the effects of the stroke, and to return as much function as possible. This involves strengthening the muscles in the affected area, walking exercises, addressing physical pain or discomfort, improving balance, and restoring mobility.

Working with your physiotherapist, you will identify your issues and goals, and develop a rehabilitation programme tailored for you. Some of this will involve sessions with a physiotherapist, but a lot of the responsibility must be assumed in your daily life. Some strength training, exercises, and stretches will be done with your physiotherapist for example, mainly in the early stages of recovery. As time goes on, the focus will shift to you and your family.

Apart from exercise and weight training, there are a number of small adjustments you can make that will aid your recovery. For example, using your weak limb instead of your unaffected one may slow down tasks, but it will help restore mobility faster. Using orthotics can help correct your walk, which can also help the rest of your body too, by preventing other issues such as hunching or leaning to one side.

Technological advancements have also opened up a whole new world of treatment for stroke survivors. Robot assisted therapy is still in the early stages, but has already been shown to benefit recovery. But perhaps the more attainable treatment options include gaming, which has been shown to significantly improve upper-limb functioning, and virtual reality, which has been shown to have similar effects. With virtual reality headsets now available in your local pharmacy for a tenner, technology has placed the power of recovery firmly in the hands of the survivor.

Recovering from a stroke can at times feel like a major uphill struggle. But by working with your physiotherapist and making a few adjustments to your daily life, you can reach your full potential and enjoy a high-quality of life for years to come.