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Stroke: Symptoms and How Physiotherapy helps

Stroke: What is a Stroke?


  • A stroke occurs when part of the brain loses its blood supply and stops working. This causes the part of the body that the injured brain controls to stop working.

  • A stroke is a medical emergency. The affected individual, family, friends, or bystanders need to call 9-1-1 (activate EMS) to access emergency care.

  • From onset of symptoms, there is only a 3 to 4 1/2 hour window to use clot-busting drugs (thrombolytics) to try to restore blood supply to the affected part of the brain.

  • Remember FAST if you think someone might be having a stroke:

  • Face drooping

  • Arm weakness

  • Speech difficulty

  • Time to call 9-1-1

  • People at risk for stroke include those who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and those who smoke. People with heart rhythm disturbances, especially atrial fibrillation are also at risk.

Stroke Symptoms and Signs

The symptoms of a stroke vary depending upon the area of the brain affected by a lack of oxygen. All strokes involve symptoms that relate to impairment of nerve function. The symptoms typically arise suddenly and most commonly occur on one side of the body. Symptoms and signs of stroke can include:

  • numbness,

  • weakness,

  • tingling, or

  • vision loss or changes.

Confusion, changes in the level of consciousness, trouble speaking, trouble understanding speech, vertigo, and balance problems are other common symptoms. Headache, nausea, and vomiting sometimes accompany a stroke, particularly when the stroke involves bleeding inside the brain.

While these are the hallmark symptoms of stroke, a stroke can cause disruption of any function of the nervous system. Symptoms of stroke typically occur on one side of the body and come on suddenly. With a transient ischemic attack (sometimes called a mini-stroke) the symptoms appear and may go away on their own. In any case, it is essential to get the affected person to a hospital as soon as possible to enable prompt treatment.

Other possible signs and symptoms of stroke include the sudden onset of:

  1. Weakness or paralysis of any part of the body.

  2. Numbness or a "pins and needles" sensation anywhere in the body.

  3. Gait disturbances (trouble walking) or loss of balance and coordination

  4. Vision changes, blurred vision, or trouble with eyesight in one or both eyes

  5. Dizziness

  6. Severe headache that usually is unlike headaches in the past

  7. Confusion

  8. Inability to speak, slurred speech, or inability to understand speech

  9. Loss of sensation in any part of the body

  10. Memory loss

  11. Behavioral changes

  12. Muscle stiffness

  13. Difficulty swallowing

  14. Involuntary eye movements

What should I do if someone is exhibiting signs and symptoms of a stroke?


Remember to think and act FAST if you see someone who may be having these symptoms. Don't delay and call 9-1-1 immediately. You may help save a life or reduce the chance of long-term disability.

"F" for Face Dropping
"A" for Arm Dropping
"S" for Speech Difficulty
"T" for Time to call 9-1-1

How can physiotherapy help?

After a stroke, our brains cannot grow new cells to replace the ones that have been damaged, but the brain has the ability to re-organise its undamaged cells and make up for what has been lost. This is called neuroplasticity. This process can be guided by the rehabilitation you receive following your stroke, and your physiotherapist will provide expert guidance on how to relearn movement and regain function.

Physiotherapists often work with other professionals to help you with the range of problems that stroke can cause. You may be helped by occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, doctors, nurses and social workers.

What a physiotherapist does

Depending on your needs, your physiotherapist will:

  • help the stroke nurses set up your plan of care to keep you as well as possible and avoid any complications that might slow down your recovery

  • advise on how you should be positioned when lying or sitting, and how often you need to be moved

  • decide when you should begin to get up out of bed and start walking and what equipment (if any) is needed to move or support you

  • motivate you to be actively involved in your physiotherapy sessions to help you relearn normal patterns of movement

  • offer therapy to strengthen your limbs and teach you how to move again as independently as possible

  • work together with the rehabilitation team, and your carer, family or friends to support your recovery in a coordinated way

  • advise you, your family and any carers how you can do as much as possible for yourself and move around as much as possible.

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