After suffering a stroke, patients may find that they have to relearn everyday skills and abilities. Things that were once taken for granted can take time to readjust to, such as learning to use the stairs. Inevitably, feeling challenged by such a basic ability can cause a lot of anger and frustration for the patient, but like any other lost skill, using the stairs can be easily accomplished with daily effort and physical therapy.

The following explains how regular physio can help you master the stairs again after your stroke.

Physiotherapy in the hospital

Before you can be discharged, your nurses will want to see that you have adequate strength in your legs to prepare for movement up and down stairs. The physical therapists on staff will make sure that you commit to a regimen of simple daily exercises to help strengthen your leg muscles. Initially, these may consist of using a solid step box to practice raising yourself up on one leg and back down again. You may also be asked that you practice lifting your feet up and down whilst sitting throughout the day. Eventually, your physiotherapist will help you put this into practice on a real set of stairs close to your hospital ward.   

Taking only one step each time, your stroke care staff will gently guide you down and up the stairs by taking a different approach for each direction. Walking down, they will recommend that you lead with your weaker leg. This keeps your weak leg straight and allows your stronger leg to bear most of the weight when you bend your knee coming down. When walking up stairs, you will lead with your stronger leg so that again, it can take most of the weight as you move.

Practicing this technique in hospital will give you the confidence to continue doing so in your own home. Remember that the more you can practice using the stairs (even when mimicking it during the sitting or box exercises), the quicker your brain can create new neural pathways in place of the damaged ones and re-establish this forgotten pattern of movement.

Recovery at home

Once you are ready to return home, it's important to stay positive and recognise each small achievement as your progress towards a full recovery. Remember that you're never alone when it comes to taking on your home staircase; you'll have the support of a friendly and patient occupational therapist as well as your loved ones to keep you motivated, quite literally, every step of the way!

Putting your hospital techniques into practice, you can feel doubly secure by having one person behind you on the stairs and one person in front. This is to ensure someone's always present in case of a slip or fall. To feel extra safe, your physiotherapist may suggest walking down sideways so that you can hold on to the banister to guide you up and down. Every stroke victim is different, however, so only use an approach and speed that is comfortable for you.

Ensuring that you are not overly reliant on your walking aids will also help your legs become stronger and improve your coordination when it comes to syncing your feet for staircase walking. Walking aids are great for helping stroke patients regain their balance and teach their feet to move in rhythm once more, but they should not be relied upon long after these skills have been acquired. In fact, constant use of a walking frame can actually hinder your recovery since it can train you to walk with your back in an awkward hunched posture and can cause your feet to drag slightly -- possibly creating the worst physical circumstances to attempt the stairs in.

Once your physiotherapist encourages you to walk without your frame or walking stick around the house, you should feel encouraged to try using the stairs unaided. While this may seem daunting at first, remember that your family and a physical therapist will be there to supervise you during your first few tries. As part of helping you regain independence on your feet, your physiotherapist may recommend using shoe inserts to improve your balance. As you start to walk unaided, shoe insoles can provide that extra stepping stone toward creating an even gait again by allowing your your weight to shift evenly from the strong side of your body to the weak.

As doubtful as it may seem to you during the emotional and challenging times during your recovery, the moment will come when you can walk independently on the stairs and with absolute confidence too.