Physical Therapy for Paresis

Paresis refers to the condition of partial paralysis or weakness. Patients who suffer from spinal cord compression or injury or a stroke often have paresis of an arm or leg. Irritation or pinching of a peripheral nerve may also cause paresis. Physical therapists work with patients with paresis to try to regain strength and improve neuromuscular recruitment of muscles in the affected limb.

Foot doctor
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Cause of Paresis

Nerve damage or compression is what causes paresis. There are many different conditions that may affect the nerves and lead to paresis. These may include:

  • Spinal cord injury. A partial or incomplete spinal cord injury may cause partial weakness in one arm or leg. You may be able to move your body slightly, or some muscles may be functioning properly while others are weak.
  • Stroke. A cerebrovascular accident (CVA), also known as a stroke, may cause damage to one or several parts of your brain. This damage may result in paresis.
  • Pinched nerve. Sometimes a pinched nerve in your spine can cause sciatica. One symptom you may feel is weakness or paresis in one or more muscles that are served by your sciatic nerve. This may cause dropped foot.
  • Cervical radiculopathy. This condition is caused by a pinched nerve in your neck and may cause paresis in your arm, wrist or hand.
  • Peripheral nerve injury. Sometimes, injury to one of your nerves as it courses down your leg or arm may cause paresis. Trauma or a blow to the nerve can impair its function, leading to weakness.
  • Decreased neuromuscular recruitment after injury or surgery. After an injury or surgery, your muscles around the injured or surgical site may become inhibited and not function properly.

If you have any condition that causes difficulty moving your arm or leg, hand, or shoulder, you may be suffering from paresis. You must check-in with your healthcare provider to get evaluated and to start on the right treatment for you.

Physical Therapy Treatments 

Your physical therapist can be an excellent resource if you have paresis. First, he or she can help determine the cause of your paresis and work to minimize the effects of your condition. The goal of PT for paresis is to help you restore normal nerve and muscle function so you can move around safely and improve your quality of life.

Modalities like neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) may be used to help improve muscle function. The electrical stimulation artificially contracts your muscles to improve the way they function and to restore strength. While the electricity is contracting your muscles, you may work with it by trying to contract your muscles.

Bracing may be used, either temporarily or permanently, to help support a joint and muscles affected by paresis. A brace like an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) is often used for drop foot to elevate your toes off the ground in the event of anterior tibial weakness. Your PT can help determine the best brace for you and your specific condition.

Managing Permanent Paresis

Sometimes, your paresis may be permanent. The damage to your nerve is too great, and your partial paralysis remains despite the best efforts to improve muscle function. So what do you do now?

Your PT can help you maximize your mobility if you have permanent paresis. If weakness in your lower leg is present, you may use an AFO to help support your ankle. A shoulder sling may be used for paresis of your shoulder to help support the joint.

Safety, when walking and moving around, is important and your physical therapist can recommend an assistive device and/or adaptive equipment that is appropriate for you to maintain safe ambulation. Your physical therapist can teach you how to use the device properly.

Most importantly, if you have paresis, movement and exercise can be essential to maintaining as much mobility and strength as possible. Even if a portion of a muscle group is not functioning properly, working to keep the muscle function you do have can help you enjoy maximum mobility.


Paresis can limit your ability to move around safely and enjoy normal work and recreational activities. Working with your PT may be an effective way to treat any paresis you may have. When paresis, or partial paralysis strikes, check in with your healthcare provider and then visit your PT to get working on restoring maximum function and mobility.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Gebruers N, Vanroy C, Truijen S, Engelborghs S, De Deyn PP. Monitoring of physical activity after stroke: A systematic review of accelerometry-based measuresArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2010;91(2):288-297. doi:10.1016/j.apmr.2009.10.025

  3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Pinched nerve.

  4. Maffiuletti NA, Gondin J, Place N, Stevens-Lapsley J, Vivodtzev I, Minetto MA. Clinical use of neuromuscular electrical stimulation for neuromuscular rehabilitation: What are we overlooking? Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2018;99(4):806-812. doi:10.1016/j.apmr.2017.10.028

  5. Kluding PM, Dunning K, O’Dell MW, et al. Foot drop stimulation versus ankle foot orthosis after stroke: 30-week outcomesStroke. 2013;44(6):1660-1669. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.111.000334

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Paralysis.

  7. Bye EA, Harvey LA, Gambhir A, et al. Strength training for partially paralysed muscles in people with recent spinal cord injury: A within-participant randomised controlled trialSpinal Cord. 2017;55(5):460-465. doi:10.1038/sc.2016.162

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.