Minnesota Stroke Association

Movement and Exercise

The most common physical effect of stroke is muscle weakness and having less control of an affected arm or leg. Survivors often work with therapists to restore strength and control through exercise programs. They also learn skills to deal with the loss of certain body movements.


Paralysis is the inability of muscle or group of muscles to move on their own. After stroke, signals from the brain to the muscles often don't work right. This is due to stroke damage to the brain. This damage can cause an arm or leg to become paralyzed and/or to develop spasticity.


Spasticity occurs when the brain is unable to send proper messages to the extremities due to a stroke and a limb becomes paralyzed or experiences painful muscles spasms with uncontrollable movement or jerking. Spasticity can evolve within days or weeks after stroke or injury occur.

Treatment Options for Spasticity

Every person will react differently to common treatments available to manage spasticity. Treatment options include physical therapy, oral medications, injection therapies, and intrathecal therapy, among others.

The most common oral medications to treat spasticity include benzodiazepines such as: diazepam, clonazepam, baclofen, and dantrolene. Studies have shown these oral medications to improve range of motion, and help reduce painful spasms, hyperreflexia, and anxiety.

Intrathecal therapy – called ITB TherapySM (Intrathecal Baclofen Therapy) – relieves severe spasticity by delivering directly a liquid form of medication to the intrathecal space where fluid flows around the spinal cord. A programmable pump is surgically placed and connected to a catheter in the body that delivers small amounts of medication to the cerebral spinal fluid.


Walking, bending and stretching are forms of exercise that can help strengthen the body and keep it flexible. Mild exercise, which should be undertaken every day, can take the form of a short walk or a simple activity like sweeping the floor. Stretching exercises, such as extending the arms or bending the torso, should be done regularly. Moving weakened or paralyzed body parts can be done while seated or lying down. Swimming is another beneficial exercise if the pool is accessible and a helper is available. An exercise program should be written down, with illustrations and guidelines for a helper if necessary.


Exercise fatigue is different from Post-Stroke Fatigue and, while exercising, is to be expected. Like everyone else, a survivor will have good and bad days. Any of these programs can be modified to accommodate for exercise fatigue or other conditions. While overexertion and pain should be avoided, some discomfort may be necessary to make progress.