Hemiparesis and Hemiplegia

The most common consequences of a stroke are hemiplegia and hemiparesis. In fact, 80% of stroke survivors suffer from hemiparesis or hemiplegia. This means that one side of the body is weak or paralyzed.

Hemiplegia is when one arm or one leg or even one side of the face is paralyzed and completely unable to move. Hemiparesis is when one arm or one leg or one side of the face is weak, but not completely paralyzed.

Sometimes hemiparesis and hemiplegia affect one arm and one side of the face on the same side of the body or one arm and one leg on the same side if the body.

Hemiplegia and hemiparesis are serious handicaps but they can improve over time with physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Why is Only Half the Body Weakened in Hemiplegia and Hemiparesis?

The brain and spinal cord are organized in 2 halves. Each half of the brain or spinal cord only controls half of the body. Each side of the brain controls movement and sensation on the opposite side of the body. So a stroke of the right cerebral cortex causes weakness of the left arm, left leg, or left side of the face and doesn't weaken the right arm, leg or face.

What You Need to do if You Have Hemiparesis or Hemiplegia

There are some steps you need to take if you experience hemiplegia or hemiparesis after a stroke. Some of these techniques can help you recover some of your abilities or prevent serious complications that may result from hemiplegia or hemiparesis.

Strengthening Exercises

You can work on strengthening exercises with a therapist, by using exercise equipment or even by incorporating new technology to help strengthen your weakened arm, leg or face. These physical exercises can also help stimulate the brain to repair itself and may help encourage the healthy parts of your brain to 'take over' some of the abilities affected by a stroke.

Stretching Movements

Even if you can't actively control or move some of your muscles after a stroke, regularly stretching them helps prevent an uncomfortable complication called spasticity. Spasticity is the stiffening and rigidity that may occur in weakened muscles after a stroke. There are a number of effective medical treatments for spasticity, but pro-actively working on prevention is most effective and better for you in the long run.

Muscle Building

Often, after a stroke, people experience a condition called atrophy, or muscle loss. This can affect the weakened arm, leg or face. Building up those muscles by making sure to avoid resting them too much can help prevent atrophy.

Good nutrition is also a central component to preventing and repairing atrophied muscles. Preventing atrophy is important because weak muscles have a tendency to atrophy and become even weaker, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle that can be difficult to overcome as it gets worse. Over time, atrophy of muscles can cause irreversible nerve damage that is even more challenging to overcome than atrophy itself.

Prevent Injury

When hemiparesis or hemiplegia cause your body to move in an uneven or asymmetric way, this can predispose you falling or injuring yourself.

This can result in serious consequences, such as broken bones, burns, head trauma or other injuries than can occur if you fall.

So, injury prevention is a big component of living with hemiplegia and hemiparesis. You might need to use a cane, a walker or take extra precautions at home and when you are out to keep yourself safe.

Hemiplegia and hemiparesis are common after a stroke. They both tend to improve to some degree in the weeks and months after a stroke. However, most people still continue to suffer from some effects of hemiparesis even during recovery. It is important to prevent complications and to avoid the injury that hemiplegia and hemiparesis can predispose you to.

Overall, a stroke is a huge life adjustment. Find out here how two stroke survivors with dramatically different outcomes learned to maximize their potential in the years after a stroke.


Is mental practice an effective adjunct therapeutic strategy for upper limb motor restoration after stroke? A systematic review and meta-analysis, Machado S, Lattari E, Rocha NB, Yuan TF, Paes F, Wegner M, Budde H, Nardi AE, Arias-Carrion O, CNS and Neurological Disorders Drug Targets, April 2015

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