On this page:
Why do they happen?
What kind of problems do people have?
Will they get better?
Are there treatments that can help?
Find out more

You may have weakness or stiffness in some of your muscles after a stroke, or you may lose control of them altogether. This can lead to problems with movement and balance. 

Why do they happen?

A stroke can affect the way your muscles work. Your brain sends signals to your muscles, through your nerves, to make them move. A stroke can damage your brain and affect these signals.

Balance is very complicated and involves different parts of your body, including your eyes, ears, muscles and joints. A stroke can affect any or all of these things, as well as the way they work together. 

What kind of problems do people have?

Most people will have some problems with movement after a stroke. 
Most movement problems are caused by weakness in your muscles. It’s common for a whole side of your body to be weak after a stroke, but you may have weakness in just one arm or leg. 
Muscle weakness affects how well you can move your body. Sometimes it can be severe and stop you from being able to move parts of your body at all. This is called paralysis.
Other things that can affect your movement include:
  • Drop foot: this is when your toes catch on the ground when you step forward because the muscles that lift your toes are weak
  • Problems with stamina: you may find it difficult to keep moving for a long time. So if you’ve been active for a while and start to feel tired, you may find that you become more clumsy and find it more difficult to control your movements
  • Spasticity: this happens when your muscles become very stiff and tight, which can make it difficult to move your arms and legs.
All of these problems can affect your balance, making you feel dizzy or unsteady. This can make moving around and reaching for objects even more difficult.

Will they get better?

It is possible for problems with movement and balance to get better. Most people see the biggest improvements within the first weeks and months after a stroke. 

After this, recovery can be slower, but many people carry on making improvements and become fitter and stronger months and years after stroke.

If you’re not able to move for a long time after your stroke, this can affect how long it takes for balance problems to improve. So it’s best to try to start moving again as quickly as possible. 

Are there treatments that can help?

Physiotherapy can help you with movement and balance problems after a stroke.
A physiotherapist can help you to practice the things you find difficult, such as standing or walking, to help strengthen your muscles and make them work more efficiently. 
They can also help you to work on your balance and do exercises to help improve your stamina or dizziness if you need it. Physiotherapy can also help with spasticity.
The amount of physiotherapy you have and the exercises you do will depend on the types of problems you have. A physiotherapist will assess your problems and recommend suitable activities for you.
If you have drop foot, your physiotherapist may suggest you try an ankle-foot orthosis. This is a type of brace that supports your ankle so that you can support your weight safely. 
Functional electrical stimulation (known as FES) can also be used to treat drop foot. This is a device that uses small electrical pulses to make the weak muscles in your leg and footwork.

Where can I get further information and advice?

Bladder and Bowel Community
Information and support for people with bladder and bowel disorders.

Brain and Spine Foundation
Information on a wide range of neurological conditions of the brain and spine. The Helpline is staffed by neuroscience nurses and health professionals.

British Pain Society
The largest UK association for health professionals involved in the treatment of pain. Includes a section for patients, which has FAQs, publications and information on pain clinics and pain management programmes.

British Society of Gerodontology
Works to protect, maintain and improve the oral health of older people and produces guidelines for the oral healthcare of stroke survivors.

Changing Faces
UK charity that supports and represents people who have disfigurements of the face or body, including facial paralysis caused by stroke.

Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)
Provides information on all types of visual impairment, including living with sight loss, registering as partially sighted, benefits and your rights as a person with visual impairment. Can refer to specialist advice services, support groups and the RNIB Emotional Support Telephone Service.

The Sexual Advice Association
Information about and support with a wide range of sexual problems. You can download factsheets from the website, and there are links to other sources of support.

Find out more

  • Physical effects of stroke - our leaflet with lots of information about muscle weakness, spasticity and drop foot and how these problems can be treated.
  • Information about physiotherapy after stroke, including one-sided weakness.
  • Balance problems after stroke - our leaflet with lots of information about problems with balance.
  • Find out more about the physical effects of stroke on My Stroke Guide. As well as free access to trusted advice, information and support 24 hours a day, My Stroke Guide connects you to our online community, to find out how others manage their recovery.