- Post-stroke spasticity can make it difficult to stretch, move, and accomplish everyday tasks.
- Modifying your home, working with an occupational therapist, practicing daily exercises, and using mobility aids can help you manage spasticity.
- Treatments, such as injections and medications, can help reduce long-term damage from spasticity.
Strokes occur when blood flow to the arteries in the brain become blocked, or (in more serious cases) leak or burst. This causes trauma to the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to other symptoms.
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 muscles to become stiff and tight, making it difficult to stretch, move, and take care of everyday tasks.
Fortunately, treatments and lifestyle adjustments can help reduce the severity of the condition and its impact on your life.
Read on to learn more about spasticity and ways to manage it.
A stroke can damage the part of the brain that controls the signals to the muscles. If that happens, you may experience spasticity, or an abnormal increase in muscle tone.
It can cause your muscles to get stiff, tight, and painful, causing you to be unable to move fluidly.
That, in turn, can affect the way you speak, move, and walk. Your muscles may remain contracted in certain positions, like a bent wrist, clenched fist, or tucking your thumb into your palm, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Other ways spasticity can affect the body after a stroke include:
- tight knees
- tension in the fingers
- bending your foot at an angle
- weakness in a foot, causing it to drag when walking
- bending your arm and holding it tight against the chest
- curling in the toes
Spasticity tends to be more common in younger people who have a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. Strokes that are caused by a bleed can also increase the risk of spasticity.
Treatment options for spasticity after a stroke depend on the severity of your 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 braces
- injections of certain medications, such botulinum toxin (Botox)
- oral medications, such as baclofen, diazepam, tizanidine, and dantrolene sodium
- intrathecal baclofen therapy (ITB)
There are also lifestyle changes people can make to reduce the symptoms of spasticity after a stroke.
While spasticity can be painful, there are ways to reduce symptoms of the condition 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 for spasticity after a stroke is to keep the affected limbs moving.
Regularly exercising these areas can help ease tightness, prevent muscles from shortening, and maintain your full range of motion.
A physical therapist or occupational therapist can show you exercises that may help your post-stroke spasticity.
2. Adjust your posture
Try to avoid staying in one position too long if you’re coping with spasticity after a stroke. That can cause muscles and joints to get stiff and sore.
Caregivers should aim to help people with spasticity switch positions every 1–2 hours to help keep the body limber.
3. Support affected limbs
Providing extra support for 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 mindful when lying down. Placing your affected arm or leg under your body when resting 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 the weight on the side that the stroke affected.
Special braces can help support limbs and prevent spasticity from getting worse.
4. Adapt your home
Making adjustments around the home can make it easier for people with spasticity to move around and accomplish tasks.
Here are some ways you can adapt your home, according to the American Stroke Association:
- install ramps to doorways
- add grab bars to the bathroom
- install raised toilet seats
- place a bench in your tub or shower
- use plastic adhesive strips on the bottom of your tub
5. Ask for support
People with spasticity, along with their caregivers, can find it helpful to seek support from family, friends, and other loved ones. They can encourage active movement and help with tasks around the home.
It can also be a great way to bond and enjoy time together. If your loved one is stretching, for instance, try stretching with them for encouragement.
6. Work with an occupational therapist
Occupational therapists help people with disabilities and health conditions learn new ways of performing everyday tasks more easily.
This may mean learning to get dressed with the opposite hand, or modifying 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 made it difficult to get around after a stroke, using mobility aids can help you move more easily. Common mobility aids include:
Talk with an occupational therapist to see if a mobility aid can be helpful for you.
Spasticity often occurs between 3 and 6 weeks after a stroke, according to research from 2018. The muscular symptoms of spasticity have been shown to continue increasing at 6 months after a stroke.
If left untreated, spasticity can cause permanent shrinking and contracting of the muscles, along with joints locked into single positions.
While there’s no cure for post-stroke spasticity, treatments and lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms and maintain your range of motion.
At least a quarter of people will develop spasticity after a stroke. The condition can cause tight, stiff muscles and reduce your mobility.
You can manage 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 with a doctor to see if medication or injections are right for you.