Hemiplegia Upper Extremity Exercises

Hemiplegia is paralysis on one side of the body 1. It usually includes your arm, leg and possibly the face of the affected side. If a brain injury occurs on the right side, the left side of the body is affected. A left-side brain injury affects the right side of the body. Upper extremity exercises are beneficial in terms of rehabilitation but only after the original cause of hemiplegia is diagnosed and treated 1.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


The most frequent causes of hemiplegia are hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes 1. According to the MDGuidelines website, hemiplegia affects 88 percent of people who have had a stroke 1. Other causes of hemiplegia include brain trauma and injuries; a brain tumor or abscess; diseases that destroy the covering of nerve cells, such as multiple sclerosis; infections like meningitis; and inflammation of the brain, or encephalitis 1. Hemiplegia in children is a form of cerebral palsy that is caused by damage to parts of the brain that control muscle movements and may occur before, during or after birth 13. Children also can have strokes, tumors, injuries and brain trauma that result in cerebral palsy.


Initial treatment includes managing the medical condition that caused hemiplegia 1. For example, medication to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels may be prescribed for individuals who experienced a stroke. Surgery may be necessary in cases of injuries, tumors or abscesses. Surgery may also be necessary to remove blockages and control hemorrhages. Physical therapy can start as soon as soon as the medical condition stabilizes. According to MDGuidelines, the level of recovery depends on the cause of hemiplegia 1. Approximately 70 percent of people are able to regain some hand movement in physical therapy.

Passive and Active Exercises

If you have hemiplegia, physical therapy is started soon after your condition stabilizes to prevent stiffening of muscles and joints 1. Exercises focus on stretching and strengthening the affected side. A physical therapist or caregiver may perform passive range-of-motion exercises on your upper extremities if you can't do them yourself 4. Upper extremity exercises may enhance your ability to perform tasks of daily living. If you are able, you can eventually do upper extremity exercises or active range-of-motion exercises on your own 4.

Types of Exercises

A physical therapist or caregiver might help you perform head and neck exercises, shoulder and elbow rotations and movements, wrist rotations and hand exercises that will help you gain dexterity and movement in your affected hand and fingers. In addition, part of your physical therapy might include exercises to enhance upper extremity strength. Keep in mind that sports for both adults and children can be adapted to the needs of a hemiplegic person. For example, basketball is good for the upper extremities and can be played by individuals with handicaps.