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3 Tips to Help Improve A Stiff Arm With Walking

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Arm swing is a natural part of walking that can be an issue for Stroke Survivors who are having over activity or stiffness in

their more affected arm. Solve folks have tightness in the elbow bending and the arm coming across the body. Or you may have a more affected arm that holds away from your body with some elbow bending and hand tightening. And, the degree to which the posturing a person experiences can increase. It can increase when a Stroke Survivors is nervous or anxious or when you have to speed up (like crossing a busy street).

Having some strategies that you have made a habit can help with encouraging your brain to allow your arm to swing more naturally.

There are a few things that I teach my clients to help improve their arm swing. For folks who have more stiffness that is getting in the way of the arm moving naturally, the first thing we do is find a simple stretch that can be done prior to walking or intermittently when they are up on their feet to help release some tension in the overactive muscles. The biceps muscles- the ones that bend your elbow- are frequently over active and benefit from a stretch. Simply placing the more affected elbow on the thigh and gently putting pressure to straighten the elbow (WITHOUT PULLING ON THE ARM) can place the more affected arm in a more natural position prior to standing.

Be aware that if you have to use a lot of momentum to stand (Think 1-2-3 STAND) your arm may tighten back up. Same goes if you hold your breath and put a great amount of effort into coming to stand. That is why the 2nd thing I work with my clients on is making “sit to stand” more effortless. The less effort that you put out, the less overflow goes to the places you don’t want to be active, like the elbow bending muscles.

The 3rd thing that I have my clients try after they have come to stand, is a deep inhale then a deep exhale, visualizing the arm letting go and resting gently at the side of the body. This can be very effective for some people.

The final thing that I suggest is to make the strategies that are most effective into a habit. When they become a habit, your body and brain learn automatically, to reduce the activity in those muscles that were over active. Then the arm swing that a person is looking for also becomes automatic.

As you have likely heard, Stroke Survivors are different from one another, so the tightness in the elbow bending muscles may not be what you are experiencing. You may have tightness somewhere else within your arm that needs addressing. You can take the 3 strategies I suggested and apply them to where you are experiencing tightness. Let's take the Stroke Survivor who has a tight wrist and hand- hand wants to stay more toward closed and the wrist bends “down”. This survivor could take a moment to stretch the wrist and hand “open and up”, work on having the most effortless sit to stand they can, and use the breathing technique with visualizing the hand resting open gently at their side.

Then working on aspects of your walking that may be contributing to tightness in your arm can help you sustain that arm swing for longer periods.

If you are interested in more strategies and instruction for how to use them, sign up for the Walking and Balance Boot Camp. In this online program I teach you exercises and strategies that can help you with lots of the common problems that Stroke Survivors deal with when trying to improve their walking and balance after Stroke. Click Here for the Boot Camp


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