Changes to movement after a stroke

Loss of movement in limbs

Many people experienced partial or complete paralysis of the limbs on one side of the body following their stroke. Usually both the upper and lower limbs were affected, but occasionally only the arm was affected. This sometimes improved spontaneously over a few days or weeks after the stroke, but recovery can continue for much longer. 

A few people recalled suddenly feeling a movement in fingers and toes and others making slow progress over some months. 

Lack of use of a limb can quickly lead to wasting of the muscles and several people commented on how weak the limb had become after just a few days or weeks. Limbs, particularly the hand and fingers, could also become stiff. 

Recovery of strength, balance and movement in legs and arms usually required intensive rehabilitation with physiotherapists and occupational therapists (See 'Stroke recovery' Physical aspects and mobility'). 

Balance, coordination and falls

Weakness on one side of the body could affect people's balance, although balance problems could also be caused by the stroke affecting the part of the brain responsible for balance, or by sensory loss (including altered vision) or by the loss of coordination. One man suffered from a lack of balance and coordination due to damage to his brainstem.

Loss of balance affects both ability to stand but also to sit and some people were initially propped up with pillows.

Poor balance and lack of coordination could often result in people falling. To help prevent falls in the first few days people were advised to not move about unless supervised. In the long term falls could still occur and could be quite sudden and dramatic, sometimes resulting in broken bones. Using a stick, holding onto furniture while moving around, being more careful and moving at a slower pace all helped to minimise the risk of falls. 

Coming to terms with loss of physical ability

Coming to term with loss of movement and mobility was extremely hard and some said that they just could not accept it. Although a lack of acceptance could lead to unrealistic expectations for recovery it also helped to spur some people on to get better. 

Many wondered how much they would recover and how long it would take. Although many regained at least some movement and mobility over a period of months and years, others were left with limited ability to move their affected limbs and with limited mobility. Most people reflected that recovery of physical ability was a long process and although it might not recover completely they had recovered more function that they originally expected.

Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated August 2013



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