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How to Reduce Heaviness in Legs After a Stroke

Posted by:

Johannes Sauer

Published at: June 25, 2024

Table of Contents
  1. Why Do Stroke Survivors Feel Heaviness in Legs?

  2. What Other Muscle Groups are Affected By Stroke?

  3. Best Stretches to Alleviate Leg Heaviness

    1. Leg Stretches and Strengthening Exercises

    2. Downward Dog

    3. Couch Stretch

  4. Best Exercises to Treat Leg Heaviness

    1. Biking

    2. Light Jogging

    3. Swimming

  5. How to Improve Your Lifestyle

A common symptom in stroke survivors is perceived heaviness of the legs. Alas, when your legs feel heavy, it may be challenging for you to adhere to your rehabilitation program. In this post, we explain more about this symptom and how to reduce heaviness in legs after a stroke.

Why Do Stroke Survivors Feel Heaviness in Legs?

According to this research paper, the sensation of heaviness in the legs after a stroke may be related to altered sensorimotor control, which could explain its association with fatigue. Previous theories suggested that heaviness in the legs following a stroke might be related to muscle weakness. 

More research is needed in this area to get a stronger understanding of the heaviness in legs phenomenon. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to reduce the feeling of heaviness even without knowing for certain what causes it.

What Other Muscle Groups are Affected By Stroke?

Along with the muscles of the legs and feet, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada reports that the muscles of the hands and arms may be affected by stroke. So, your arms may also feel heavy after a stroke, just like your legs. 

Along with the feeling of heaviness, you may get tightness n your muscles since they can shorten.

Best Stretches to Alleviate Leg Heaviness

One of the best ways to reduce the feeling of heaviness in legs after a stroke is to exercise. You should start out by performing some simple but effective stretches, after which you will be able to move on to aerobic workouts.

Leg Stretches and Strengthening Exercises

Some simple leg stretches and strengthening exercises you can try include ankle dorsiflexion, clams, heel raises, knee extensions, leg lifts, calf raises and more.

Downward Dog

Downward dog is one of the most popular yoga poses, and it is one that can provide you with a great stretch after a stroke. 

To enter this position, begin on your hands and knees. Keep your hands on the floor, and lift your knees up off the ground, straightening your legs so that your hips are raised above you, and your body forms a triangle with the floor. 

If you find downward dog useful, you may wish to check out other yoga stretches as well. Stroke patients who practiced yoga were found in a study to be more active and to have higher quality of life than those who did not

Couch Stretch

Another stretch that works well for stroke patients is the couch stretch. This stretch can be a bit challenging to describe. Basically, you place one foot on the floor. Place your opposite knee on the cushion of a couch, bending your leg back behind you so that your foot is resting on top of the couch back. 

There are many variations on the couch stretch, some of which use a chair or a wall instead of a couch, so experiment and find what works best for you. 

Best Exercises to Treat Leg Heaviness

Jun 25, 2024

Once you have started doing some of the stretches above, you may be ready to progress to some light aerobic exercises. Here are a few options that can help you recover after a stroke.

Biking

Research shows that chronic stroke patients can improve their balance and gait with stationary cycling. You can also try stationary cycling, or even getting outdoors on a bicycle, to improve your leg heaviness. Just make sure you are balanced enough to not topple over before you hop on a real bicycle.

Light Jogging

Jogging or running can help you to recover strength and endurance following a stroke. So, these can be effective leg exercises when you have post-stroke leg heaviness. If you are not ready to jog or run yet, try just going on a brisk walk.

Learning how to walk after a stroke involves multiple challenges. We have already talked about leg heaviness, muscle weakness, and difficulties with balance. Around 10.6% of patients report chronic pain after a stroke. That includes pain from spasticity, shoulder subluxation, and peripheral neuropathy, which can affect the hands and feet. 

In addition, around 20% to 30% of stroke patients have foot drop or inversion, where it is not possible to fully lift the feet while walking. When you cannot lift the fronts of your feet in a natural way, it is difficult to maintain a natural gait. 

Despite these challenges, walking is important when you are recovering from a stroke. Research shows that patients who walk vigorously are able to improve their walking capacity in just 4 weeks, with additional gains over the next 8 weeks. 

We will discuss how you can get back to walking safely and effectively shortly. 

Swimming

At the time of this writing, research does not provide clear support for swimming as an exercise for stroke rehabilitation. Nevertheless, many stroke patients find swimming enjoyable. And as it does not require balance, it may be a safer exercise than some alternatives.

How to Improve Your Lifestyle

One of the best things you can do to reduce leg heaviness and restore function to your limbs is to exercise, as has been our focus in this post. But how do you overcome the challenges that make it so difficult to exercise after a stroke?

When it comes to exercising outside of your home, what can make a big difference is to replace your regular shoes with shoes that are specifically designed for patients with stroke, peripheral neuropathy, and other health conditions that adversely impact gait.

The Cadense Original Adaptive Shoe is a shoe that features patented variable friction technology. This feature lets the wearer “glide” over uneven surfaces without fully lifting their foot. That means that stroke survivors who are experiencing foot drop can clear obstacles more easily, with less likelihood of tripping and falling.

These shoes are made out of lightweight materials, minimizing fatigue. This, too, is essential for recovering stroke patients, who may be prone to fatigue even with relatively modest levels of activity.

Cushioning and snug support help to keep ankles aligned and feet as comfortable as possible while standing or walking, which may help to alleviate any chronic or acute pain that you are experiencing following a stroke.

Finally, you can step into these shoes easily, and take them off just as easily. This can be a big help if you are experiencing any post-stroke muscle weakness or neuropathy in your hands along with your feet. 

Shop our full collection of shoes for stroke patients. Our shoes are available in a range of colors so you can find the right fit not just for your feet, but also for your wardrobe. 

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FAQ

Will leg function improve after a stroke?

Yes, leg function can improve after a stroke. But if you want to rehabilitate your leg function, you will need to perform exercises that help you regain your strength, balance and endurance. 

You must be patient as you work toward recovering mobility. The majority of patients take around six months to recover their mobility. But some patients may take up to two years to get back the mobility they lost. 

The more diligent and consistent you are with your exercises, the better your chance of making a full recovery of leg function. But do not push yourself so hard that you do not give your muscles a chance to recover. 

What lifestyle changes support better leg function after a stroke?

Along with implementing an exercise routine, as we just discussed, it is recommended that patients recovering from a stroke eat a suitable diet. Researchers have found that controlling weight through an appropriate diet helped patients to heal more quickly and enhance their functional fitness, including in their extremities.

What should I do if I experience leg weakness or heaviness after a stroke?

If you are experiencing weakness and heaviness after a stroke, you may need some assistance with stability and support. Your physical therapist may give you an orthotic or brace, or even a walker. Once you have recovered sufficiently, you can stop relying on these forms of support. 

Physical therapy, as well as the exercises you perform on your own, will assist you with recovering your leg function.

Can caregivers help stroke patients improve leg function post stroke?

Yes, if you are providing care for a patient with a stroke, you may be able to assist them with improving their leg function. There are caregiver-mediated exercises they can perform with your help. You can discuss with the patient as well as their doctor or physical therapist to identify appropriate exercises. 

Posted by: Johannes Sauer

Johannes is the CEO and Co-Founder of Cadense and passionate about helping people with walking difficulties. Johannes is the CEO and Co-Founder of Cadense and passionate about helping people with walking difficulties. He was immediately drawn to the mission of the company because his cousin lost his lower leg in a tragic motorcycle accident a few years ago and is experiencing walking difficulties ever since. Johannes brings over a decade of experience in working for consumer product companies to Cadense. He holds an MBA from the University of Graz in Austria. Johannes lives with his family in Santa Barbara, CA.

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