What Are the Benefits of Physiotherapy for Hemiparesis?
Hemiparesis literally means 'half paralyzed' in Latin. The term refers to a medical condition wherein a patient suffers partial paralysis on one side of the body. This condition is often the result of a stroke or some other attack on the brain cells. Physiotherapy for hemiparesis seeks to help restore motor function in these patients by helping them re-learn everyday tasks, such as walking and feeding themselves. The benefits of physiotherapy for hemiparesis include partial or full recovery of motor functions, restoration of neural pathways, and an improved quality of life.
Patients with hemiparesis most often suffer a stroke before experiencing the condition. Car accidents, the onset of dementia, and brain diseases can also cause this condition. In most cases of hemiparesis, the patient still has some motor function on the affected side of the body. The amount of motor function often varies, ranging from a loss of fine skills to very little speed or economy of movement. Physiotherapy for hemiparesis seeks to restore these losses with basic exercises that strengthen the affected limbs and stimulate the affected side of the brain.
One of the most popular kinds of physiotherapy for hemiparesis is walking. Whether on a treadmill or outdoor walking paths, this exercise often helps patients regain function. Walking often engages both the legs and arms, meaning the patient is usually encouraged to swing his or her affected arm while walking. This is called gait reeducation because it usually helps the patient regain a normal, or close to normal, walking gait. Some patients recover full function while others require a cane or to walk, or must simply walk at a slower pace.
Another benefit of physiotherapy for hemiparesis involves relearning basic activities, like feeding oneself. Patients are encouraged to lift very light weights with the affected arm to regain strength. The motions for self-feeding may then be practiced. Over time, most patients can eat without help, even if they must eat slowly. These motor functions may later be used to help the patient relearn a favorite activity, such as writing, painting, or knitting.
Independence is one of the biggest benefits of physiotherapy for hemiparesis. Patients often suffer from depression because they need help to do everything they want to do. When physiotherapists teach them how to perform these tasks independently, the patients’ moods often improve. They begin to understand that, with determination, they can lead fairly productive and normal lives. To this end, physiotherapy for hemiparesis is often accompanied by plenty of positive feedback, gait therapy in interesting or stimulating environments, and sometimes therapeutic yet fun games.
Those undergoing physiotherapy may be encouraged to play games, like checkers, chess, or card games to improve their hand motor functions and creative neural pathways. Riding stationary bikes and assisted walking in shallow swimming pools may also be part of therapy. This often depends on what kind of therapy the patient enjoys, so the more the patient likes his or her therapy, the more likely he or she is to recover.
I don't know why immediate physiotherapy works so well, but it does. It's just a guess, but I think maybe it "reactivates" those neural pathways in the brain before they have a chance to atrophy from disuse. They're still active immediately after the stroke, so the brain is able to create new pathways to those centers. Again, I'm not a neurologist, just making a totally wild guess.
My uncle had a stroke a couple of years ago, and was in really intense rehab for 21 days. His walking isn't very steady, but he can write, feed himself, etc. He gets around with a walker. I know without the rehab, he wouldn't be doing nearly as well.
Physiotherapy can work wonders for people who have had paralysis, assuming of course, the damage from the stroke or causative factor wasn't too extreme.
Most people can regain at least some function, and if therapy is started right away, many people regain almost full function.
My mom had a mild stroke four years ago. She was in rehab for four weeks and regained probably 80 percent function on her right side. She can write and do most things she was able to do before. The most noticeable change is that she drags her right foot when walking, but that's a small thing.
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