- Post-stroke spasticity can make stretching, movement and daily tasks difficult.
- Modifying your home, working with an occupational therapist, exercising daily, and using walking aids can help you control spasticity.
- Treatments, such as injections and medications, can help reduce the long-term damage caused by spasticity.
Strokes occur when blood flow to the arteries in the brain is blocked or (in more severe cases) leaks or ruptures. This causes trauma to the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to other symptoms.
In between 25 percent and 43 percent of people will experience a condition called spasticity in the first year after a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association.
Spasticity causes the muscles to become rigid and contracted, making stretching, movement and daily tasks difficult.
Fortunately, treatments and lifestyle adjustments can help reduce the severity of the disease and its impact on your life.
Read on to learn more about spasticity and ways to control it.
A stroke can damage the part of the brain that controls signals to the muscles. If this happens, you may experience spasticity or an abnormal increase in muscle tone.
This can make your muscles stiff, tense and sore, making you unable to move smoothly.
This, in turn, can affect the way you speak, move and walk. Your muscles may remain contracted in certain positions, such as a bent wrist, clenched fist or placing your thumb in the palm of your hand, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Other ways in which spasticity can affect the body after a stroke include:
- tight knees
- tension in the fingers
- bending your foot at an angle
- weakness in one foot, causing it to drag when walking
- bending the arm and holding it tightly against the chest
- curling on the toes
Spasticity tends to be more common in younger people who have suffered a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. Strokes caused by bleeding can also increase the risk of spasticity.
Treatment options for spasticity after a stroke depend on the severity of the symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest trying a variety of treatments and management strategies at the same time.
Here are some common treatment options, according to the American Stroke Association:
- exercise and stretching
- muscle straps
- injections of certain medications, such as botulinum toxin (Botox)
- oral medications such as baclofen, diazepam, tizanidine and dantrolene sodium
- intrathecal baclofen therapy (ITB)
There are also lifestyle changes that people can make to reduce the symptoms of spasticity after a stroke.
Although spasticity can be painful, there are ways to reduce the symptoms of the disease and improve your quality of life.
Here are seven tips for living with spasticity:
1. Exercise or stretch the affected limbs
One of the best things you can do to deal with spasticity after a stroke is to keep the affected limbs moving.
Regular exercise in these areas can help to relieve tension, prevent muscle shortening and maintain full range of motion.
A physical therapist or occupational therapist can show you exercises that can help with post-stroke spasticity.
2. Adjust your posture
Try to avoid staying in the same position for a long time if you are dealing with spasticity after a stroke. This can cause your muscles and joints to become stiff and sore.
Caregivers should help people with spasticity to change positions every 1–2 hours to help keep their bodies agile.
3. Support affected members
Providing extra support for the affected limbs can also keep you more comfortable and reduce the effects of spasticity. For example, try not to let your arm or leg fall off the side of the bed or wheelchair.
Be especially careful when lying down. Placing the affected arm or leg under your body at rest can worsen spasticity.
Lying on your back can help keep your limbs in a more comfortable position. If you prefer to lie on your side, avoid putting your weight on the side affected by the stroke.
Special straps can help support the limbs and prevent further spasticity.
4. Adapt your home
Making adjustments at home can make it easier for people with spasticity to get around and perform tasks.
Here are some ways to adapt your home, according to the American Stroke Association:
- install ramps on doors
- add grab bars to the bathroom
- install raised toilet seats
- put a bench in your bath or shower
- use plastic adhesive strips on the bottom of your bathtub
5. Ask for support
People with spasticity, together with their caregivers, may find it helpful to seek support from family, friends and other loved ones. They can encourage active movement and help with chores around the house.
It can also be a great way to bond and enjoy time together. If your loved one is stretching, for example, try to stretch with him for encouragement.
6. Work with an occupational therapist
Occupational therapists help people with disabilities and health problems to learn new ways to perform daily tasks more easily.
This may mean learning to dress with the other hand or changing eating habits. While learning something new is always a journey, staying positive can help make the process easier.
7. Use mobility aids
If spasticity has hampered mobility after a stroke, the use of mobility aids can help you move more easily. Common mobility aids include:
- walking sticks
Talk to an occupational therapist to see if a mobility aide can be of help to you.
Spasticity usually occurs between 3 and 6 weeks after a stroke, according to 2018 survey. Muscle spasticity symptoms have been shown to continue to increase 6 months after a stroke.
If left untreated, spasticity can cause permanent muscle shrinkage and contraction, together with joints locked in unique positions.
Although there is no cure for post-stroke spasticity, treatments and lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms and maintain your range of motion.
At least one people’s room will develop spasticity after a stroke. The condition can cause tense and rigid muscles and reduce their mobility.
You can control symptoms and improve your quality of life with spasticity by modifying your home, practicing daily exercises, working with an occupational therapist and using mobility aids.
Treatments can also help prevent long-term damage from spasticity. Talk to a doctor to see if the medications or injections are right for you.