A stroke is a loss of blood flow to one ore more areas of the brain, either from a blood clot or a ruptured blood vessel in the brain. As blood flow is halted, the cells in the brain do not receive oxygen and subsequently begin to die. This causes a loss of function in muscles or limbs. Strokes can vary in degree, and the severity depends on the number of brain cells that were killed. Post-stroke rehabilitation involves reteaching the body to perform basic movements and regain strength. Core stability exercises are a major component of a post-stroke exercise routine.
Callisthenics is the use of your own body to perform exercise. Callisthenics are especially helpful for stroke victims because they may not have the strength to lift weights. They utilise several muscle groups simultaneously and develop core strength. The modified push-up is a common post-stroke exercise. It is performed like a regular push-up, but the patient places his knees on the ground. This makes the movement much easier and gradually develops upper body strength. Another calisthenic exercise is one-leg calf raises. As the patient stands, he bends one leg back toward the buttocks and attempts to retain balance for a minute or more. This exercise develops stability and lower core strength. To make the task more difficult, perform the exercise with the eyes closed, as this will eliminate the vision from helping to balance.
The exercise ball is a great tool for combining strength training with balance improvement. It will help to develop core strength by forcing the muscles in the body to keep the ball steady. A common beginner exercise is to simply sit on the ball and remain seated for as long as possible. This task may be difficult for severe stroke victims, so a therapist should reinforce the patient throughout the exercise. While sitting, the back should be straight and the knees should be directly above the ankles. After the patient has developed some strength, he can perform more advanced exercises with the ball. For instance, the wall squat will increase lower body conditioning and improve core strength. The exercise is performed by placing the ball between your back and a wall. As you squat down, the ball will slightly reinforce your body. Keep your back straight and your knees directly above your ankles throughout the movement.
Free weights can be used further down the road in the rehabilitation plan. Many stroke victims will be unable to hold a light free weight, let alone perform an exercise with it. However, free weights are extremely effective in developing coordination and muscle strength if the patient can support them. Light weights should always be used. The goal is not to build muscle, but rather to teach the muscles how to move again. Free-weight exercises should mimic common motions. The bicep curl and tricep extensions will improve arm strength, making it possible to perform activities such as lifting objects and closing windows. Front shoulder lifts and shoulder raises will improve shoulder strength, allowing the patient to brush his teeth and remove an object from a shelf. The goal of these exercises is to enable the patient to perform normal daily tasks.
Resistance bands serve a similar function to free weights, but they allow for negative movement. Negative movement is the conditioning of muscles as they return to the starting position. For instance, the patient performs a bicep curl and then lowers his arm slowly. The lowering of the arm is the negative movement, and it is an essential component of overall muscle strength. Thus, use the resistance bands to perform the same set of exercises as with free weights. To add more difficulty and really improve core strength, sit on an exercise ball while performing the workouts. This will train multiple muscle groups simultaneously, as well as develop balance and coordination.
- The National Center on Physical Activity and Stroke: Core & Stability Exercises for Stroke
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Post-Stroke Rehabilitation Fact Sheet
- American Heart Association: Summary of Exercise Programming Recommendations for Stroke Survivors
- Sports Injury Clinic: Introduction to Core Stability
- National Stroke Association: What is a Stroke/Brain Attack?