Stroke Awareness

May 17, 2018


Stephanie Goraczkowski

Chances are, we all have been affected by a stroke. Whether it’s a family member, friend or ourselves, the fact is, around 795,000 people have a stroke each year in the U.S. A stroke can happen to anyone at any time or age, so let’s walk through what a stroke is, treatment options, recovery and stroke prevention.


What happens when you have a stroke?

Simply put, a stroke is like a heart attack for the brain. It occurs when an area of the brain is cut off from oxygen and cells begin to die. That part of the brain starts to lose its capabilities, such as memory or muscle control. Ischemic strokes happen when an artery is clogged, and blood can’t get to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes happen when blood vessels near the brain burst.

Because each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, the aftermath of a stroke might be different depending on which side someone has the stroke.

On the right side:

  • Weakness on the left side of the body
  • Distance impairment
  • Problems picking up things due to gauging distance
  • Difficulty reading facial expressions


On the left side:

  • Weakness on the right side of the body
  • Slurred speaking
  • Difficulty speaking in coherent sentences or understanding others


These are all the physical things that happen, and as a medical professional, chances are you already know this.

But there is more than meets the eye on strokes. Not only is someone going through a physical trauma, but they’re also going through a scary, emotional trauma. That can leave them feeling a bit shaken up as they prepare for treatment and recovery.

Emotional and behavior changes can happen after a stroke too. Because this affects the brain, and the brain is in charge of these reactions, an injury can not only affect the physical parts, but an added double whammy with emotional and behavioral complications. We can’t really see feelings or what someone is thinking, so it’s important for family, friends and caretakers to try and gauge any differences, such as symptoms of depression or anxiety.


How do you recover from a stroke?

The biggest part of surviving a stroke is the recovery process. Because a stroke is essentially a “brain attack”, stroke recovery can be ongoing and lifelong. It can also be hard to pinpoint a generic recovery process and stroke treatments for all stroke patients, because different areas of the brain affect different parts of the body. Since the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa, you can narrow down symptoms and a recovery plan based on that. Here are some exercises from Saebo that may be helpful in strengthening the body after a stroke.


Shoulder Exercises

Arm Slide Shoulder Stretch

Place hand on a towel or paper (something that can slide) on a table, with your other hand on top. Slide towel or paper away from you toward center of the table. As your hands slide forward, your shoulders will stretch and strengthen.



Lift and lower and shoulders, in a shrugging motion. When you’re comfortable with this exercise, lift shoulders, then roll shoulders back before lowering.


Arm Rotation

Hold arms in front of your body, bent at a 90-degree angle at your sides. Then push arms outward to left and right without dropping them, so that the 90-degree angle remains consistent.


Behind Back Pass

Sit in a chair with a stack of lightweight items in front of you, like plastic cups. Looking forward, pass the item/cup behind your neck and use your other hand to retrieve it and set it back down on the table. Continue doing this until you’ve passed the entire stack of items from one hand to the other.


Arm Exercises

Wrist Stretch

Sitting, place your forearm on a table, hand over the edge of the table, palm down. Use your other hand to gently stretch the wrist downward, stretching ligaments and muscles. Then, lift the wrist up, down and sideways, gently stretching the extended wrist with the other hand.


Inner Arm Stretch

Place your hands palms down on the table and rotate your wrist so your fingers point towards your you. Keeping your elbows straight, move your body backwards until you feel a stretch on the inside of the arm.


Elbow Weight Training

Standing, hold a small weight in your hand. Bend and straighten the elbow, repeating to your endurance point. Over time, you may increase repetitions as your elbow strengthens.


Leg Exercises

Standing Balances

Standing straight and tall while, transfer your weight to one side. Swing the other leg to the side. Repeat.


Leg Bridges

Lay down and place a pillow or rolled towel under the knee joint. Then, press the back of the knee into the pillow or rolled towel to lift your heel off the floor.


Wall Sits

Lean against a flat wall, with your feet in front of you. Using the wall to support your weight and your back, bend your knees to lower yourself down. Slide back up.



Lay down on your side, bending your knees and resting one on top of the other. Keeping your feet together, lift the top knee up from the other knee, holding them apart for a count of 10 seconds. Lower your knee back down.


Core Exercises


Squeeze your pelvic muscles, lifting and drawing in, holding for a count of three. Relax and repeat.


Knee Rolls

Lay on your back, bending your knees and feet flat on the floor. Roll your hips, pushing your knees to the left, then to the right, then back to center.


Leg Drops

Lay on your back, hips and feet flat with your knees bent. Keep your pelvis stable, using the hands to keep it in place. Inhale, and drop the left knee to the left, as far as possible without lifting your pelvis, keeping the knee bent. Exhale, and draw your knee back in.


Leg Bridges

Lay down and place a pillow or rolled towel under the knee joint. Then, press the back of the knee into the pillow or rolled towel to lift your heel off the floor.



Lay down on your side, bending your knees and resting one on top of the other. Keeping your feet together, lift the top knee up from the other knee, holding them apart for a count of 10 seconds. Lower your knee back down.


Hand Exercises

Open/Close Fist

A good exercise to retrain your brain and hands. Make a fist, wrapping your thumb over your fingers. Slowly open and spread your fingers wide. Then, reclose your fist.


Finger Spread

Place your hand in front of you with fingers straight and close to each other. Flex them apart.


Fingertip Touch

Spread your fingers comfortably, then bring the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pointer finger. Release and open the hand wide. Now, repeat the movement, but touching the middle, ring and pinky fingers.


Balance Exercises

Heel Raises

Hold onto a chair, counter or table for support, and raise yourself up onto your tiptoes, keeping your knees straight and holding your upper body tall. Lower yourself back to the floor and repeat.


Side Steps

Place tape on the floor in a straight line. Hold onto a chair, counter or table for support, and step sideways to cross the line, crossing one leg across the front of the other leg. Reverse the motion and return to the starting point, this time crossing your leg behind.


Heel-to-Toe Walking

Place tape on the floor in a straight line. Walk forward, placing your heel directly in front of your other toe as you walk. Continue to the end of the tape, turn, and repeat, returning to the starting point



How do you prevent a stroke?

There are a lot of myths surrounding strokes and those affected by a stroke. While family history of stroke can increase your chances to have one, strokes can be prevented. In fact, up to 80% of strokes are preventable.


Lower your blood pressure.

Ideally, your blood pressure should be less than 140/90. If you are at risk for high blood pressure, try reducing your salt intake, eating more whole grain and fish, and exercising regularly. This could also help you lose weight, which can help you lower your chances of a stroke.


Lower your alcohol usage.

If you’re someone who enjoys a good cocktail now and then, keep an eye on how much you’re consuming. Try drinking no more than one drink per day, and try to choose red wine as your alcoholic drink of choice. It contains resveratrol, which can protect the heart and brain.


Visit your doctor.

We discuss the importance of visiting your doctor for an annual exam in 4 Annual Medical Tests You Shouldn't Skip. Get an annual checkup to stay updated on your blood pressure, your family history, lifestyle changes and lab tests.


Learn F-A-S-T.

The National Stroke Association created an easy acronym to help you identify the signs of a stroke. Too often, people are skeptical of the signs or outright ignore signs of a stroke.

FASTSource: National Stroke Association



Check out more resources for stroke awareness here:

American Stroke Association

American Stroke Association blog 

Faces of Stroke

Different Strokes blog

Living After Stroke

Recover From Stroke

Home After A Stroke

World Pediatric Stroke Foundation

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