How a Physiotherapist Can Help Reduce Post-Stroke Fatigue

Fatigue is a common symptom following a stroke and can affect patients for months afterwards. Understandably, this can be very frustrating as it can hinder motivation and endurance when you need it most. Fortunately, regular physiotherapy can help combat fatigue and give your energy levels a much-needed boost throughout your recovery. Below are some of the key ways a physiotherapist at a place like Pro-Fit Physio & Allied Health Centre can help treat post-stroke fatigue.

Assessing your lifestyle and home recovery

Fatigue is largely an after-effect of the stroke itself, but symptoms of drowsiness can be exacerbated by other factors such as lack of sleep or pushing yourself too hard. By assessing your lifestyle and how your recovery is progressing at home, your physiotherapist may be able to pinpoint a more direct cause of your fatigue.

Whilst you are carrying out an exercise or activity, for example, your physiotherapist can keenly observe anything that could be exhausting you further, e.g. foot dragging as you walk, taking longer strides than necessary or incorrect posture whilst using your walker or frame. Helping to iron out these little habits now can make a big difference to your energy levels in the long-run.

Post-stroke fatigue can manifest itself in physical joint and muscle aches, but it can also come in the form of mental fatigue, causing headaches and dizziness. The latter can be caused by poor dietary intake and lack of sleep. Make sure you are getting enough rest by scheduling naps during the day -- after suffering a stroke, even staying awake and inactive for long periods of the day can be mentally and physically exhausting, so allow yourself periods of rest each day.

Provide your physiotherapist with as much detail as possible in terms of how the fatigue is making you feel. Family members may have noticed signs of possible fatigue that you have not, so ensure their opinions are noted as well.  

Using relaxation techniques and treatments

It may seem counter-productive to beating fatigue, but plenty of relaxation can be what's needed to recharge and ensure you function more effectively. In line with your regular exercises, your physiotherapist may be able to suggest some relaxation techniques that can help release tension in tired muscles and even improve your mood and sleep quality. These can include the following:

  • Hydrotherapy - Hydrotherapy helps you to relieve tight muscles and de-stress in the relaxing environment of a warm swimming pool. A typical session sees patients staying buoyant in the water to relieve pressure on joints and use the water to assist movement in weak limbs. This treatment that can be provided as part of your physiotherapy.  
  • Deep-breathing and (gentle) yoga - Deep-breathing exercises are encouraged daily to reduce feelings of tension and stress that can bring about drowsiness. Gentle and basic yoga postures are also beneficial to help strengthen muscles and make the body and mind feel more rested. Your physiotherapist can aid you with simple yoga techniques which can be done in a sitting position or lying down if standing up tires you easily.
  • Massage - Regularly massaging the limbs helps to restore normal nerve function by stimulating nerve connections in the areas damaged by a stroke. From full palm massages to simple finger trailing techniques, regular massage can also improve well being and help lessen feelings of depression caused by fatigue.

Setting short and long-term goals

It's understandable to want a rapid return to normal in terms of your mobility and independence, but rushing your recovery will only exhaust you and slow down your progress. To limit fatigue whilst you are in recovery, your physiotherapist can help determine what your goals are and give them a realistic time frame in which to be achieved. Clearly setting out your goals in front of you will help you to feel more in control and will enable you to see just how much you are progressing.

Short-term goals may include things like getting yourself a drink from the kitchen, walking upstairs or using cutlery easily. Long-term goals, on the other hand, could include things like using the toilet unaided, walking outside or even driving again. Break down each of your ambitions and goals with your physiotherapist. This will give you a clear sense of direction and help you to gradually replace feelings of weariness with positivity and motivation.

It can be useful to keep a journal of daily and weekly activity to record how frequently you exercise. That way, on days where you feel low, you can look back and celebrate your small successes. Remember that however small these triumphs are, they are each leading you to the big picture, so start a timeline of your recovery now to help keep you focused on the long-term goals ahead.