Many stroke survivors will find that they have decreased muscle strength due to suffering from paralysis or limited movement after a stroke. Whilst the hands and arms are affected, suffering from severe weakness in the leg -- and foot in particular -- can be particularly frustrating for the patient, as this provides the greatest obstacle in helping them regain their independence.  

Fortunately, with the help of daily exercises at home and the support of occupational therapy, you can learn how to move with confidence and coordination once more. Here are some of the best exercises to help restore strength and mobility in your foot muscles following a stroke.

Inverting and extending the foot

Suffering a stroke can often cause what's known as 'foot drop', meaning the patient is unable to lift the front part of their foot. Increasing your flexibility and range of motion in your foot is crucial in the early stages of suffering a stroke as foot dragging can hinder recovery when it comes to climbing stairs and walking comfortably again.

To ensure your foot ligaments are properly stretched and strengthened before you tackle more challenging leg movements, your physical therapist may recommend a daily repetition of an inward/outward exercise for your feet. To do this, sit upright in a chair with your back straight and feet on the floor. Next, turn your affected foot inward and hold the position for five seconds. Relax, then turn your foot outwards and hold for another five seconds. Start with 10 repetitions of this a day and move on to 10 repetitions three times a day if you feel able to do so. This will lengthen the tendons in your feet and wake up previously tired and immobile muscles.

Flexing your toes for coordination

When we walk, our toes make that all-important contact with the ground to launch us into movement (heel-ball-toe). This is why flexing the toe muscles regularly is essential to restoring overall muscle strength in the feet of stroke patients. This simple exercise for improving toe coordination involves standing behind a chair with your feet shoulder-width apart. Placing both hands on the chair for support, slowly raise yourself on tiptoes and take a deep breath as you do. Hold this position for two seconds and, taking another deep breath, slowly lower your heels to the floor.

Again, this can be done for a set of 5 or 10 repetitions daily. Your occupational therapist will be able to assess how comfortable you are doing this exercise and will allow you to take things at your own pace. As you gain confidence with this move, you will be able to hold your tiptoe position for longer -- further strengthening not only your toe muscles, but also your calves and ankles to provide your legs with greater coordination and mobility.

Exercising with a fitness band

A rubber fitness band is an extremely versatile exercise tool, especially for stroke victims since this allows any muscle group to be stretched as much or as little as the user is comfortable with. The following are just some of the great foot strengthening exercises you can try with a fitness band. (Note: a family member or physical therapist can aid you in moving/placing the band as needed).

  • Sitting comfortably in a chair, place the center of the fitness band under your foot. (It's safer to wear sensible shoes for this exercise to prevent the band from slipping off your foot and springing back up). Once the fitness band is in place, grip both ends of the band tightly and pull them tightly so the band is taut. Then, press your foot down forcefully on the band as if pushing down on car brakes. As you gain confidence, you can make the band tauter and make the downward push more challenging for yourself.
  • Standing beside a dining chair, get someone to tie the ends of the fitness band securely to the bottom of one of the front chair legs, so that the band lies in a loop beside you on the floor. Ensure the band is slack enough for your foot to be placed inside the loop but taut enough to stretch with. Using the top of the chair to support yourself, place your foot in the loop and gently raise your foot upward, pushing against the band. Ask someone to sit in the chair beforehand to weigh it down and make it sturdy.

This move helps strengthen the plantar fascia, the thin ligament that connects your heel to the front of your foot. Repeating this movement daily can help stretch core ligaments like the plantar fascia so that each exercise improves the range of motion and overall strength in your feet.

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