Say physio for

After a stroke

Find a physio


A stroke happens when there is a sudden interruption of blood flow to part of your brain, this causes it to stop working and damages brain cells. Strokes are usually a combination of different factors. According to the Stroke Foundation of New Zealand, all ages can suffer from a stroke but 75% happen in people over 65.

If you have suffered a stroke then physiotherapy can play a very important role in your recovery, both during your hospital stay and after you leave.


Common risk factors for having a stroke include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Inactivity
  • Heavy drinking
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity.

As you can see from the list above, there are many risk factors for stroke that you can change. If you are concerned about the risk of having a stroke then please seek help from a health professional. As movement experts, physiotherapists can help you design the right exercise programme to suit your needs.

How physio helps

The first priority is that your condition is medically stable, once this has occurred your focus can shift to rehabilitation. Your rehabilitation will be delivered by a multi-disciplinary team; this could include physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

Rehabilitation usually starts in the first few days after a stroke - while you are still in hospital. Your physio's role will be to help return as much normal function as possible so you can continue to do the things you enjoy in life.

Rehabilitation will be influenced by the severity of your stroke and the resulting problems. It may include:

  • Helping you relearn how to perform basic movements, such as getting out of bed and walking.
  • Specific exercises to aid in your recovery by strengthening weak muscles, improving your balance and teaching you new ways to complete tasks.
  • Teaching you how to use any equipment that may be needed to help keep you safe.

What to expect

After a stroke you may experience:

  • Lack of energy - this is because your body is recovering from an injury to your brain. Relearning new skills also makes you more tired as they require so much concentration. Breaking tasks into much smaller steps can help with this as can increasing your activity slowly rather than in large steps, and remember to schedule in regular rest breaks if you need them.
  • Weak muscles - sometimes your arm and/or leg can feel weak or difficult to move. Specific exercises, prescribed by a physio, can help you regain your muscle power and control.
  • Lack of sensation - after a stroke parts of your body may feel numb or just different to normal. Gentle massage (soft touch) can help as can exposing your skin to different textures and temperatures to help normalise sensation.
  • Balance - you might feel unbalanced or unsteady while moving around. A physio can advise on how to walk safely and improve your balance, this could include daily walking practice or making your home safer e.g. removing rugs that you may trip over. Sometimes a walking frame or stick is given to help you move around independently.

It's also important to note that after a stroke you are more at risk of having a fall. Read more about Falls Prevention.

How long it takes to recover depends on the severity and location of your stroke and your access to treatment. Everyone experiences different problems and recovers at different rates. When the hospital based rehabilitation service feels you are safe to go home you may be referred to appropriate community based services, this will often include physiotherapy.

A physiotherapy programme can help you with many symptoms that are common after a stroke. Some private physios also offer rehabilitation after a stroke.


Your best chance of recovering from a stroke is getting medical help early. People usually show signs of improvement after a few days but you often need to be patient as function may return slowly. It's also important that you stay motivated and continue doing the exercises you have been given, even if your progress seems slow. If the exercises have become too easy for you ask the physio for some more difficult ones. Like an athlete in training, you need to push yourself to improve.

You do not need to be able to access high-tech equipment to improve. In a stroke rehabilitation study in the United States, researchers compared two common techniques to help stroke patients improve their walking. Both methods of training on a body-weight supported treadmill or working on strength and balance exercises at home with a physiotherapist resulted in equal improvements in the individual's ability to walk by the end of one year. The important thing is lots of practice. You will not get better just sitting around!