How to treat muscle spasticity
About one in five stroke survivors suffers from painful muscle spasms, which result when weakened muscles contract abnormally. Someone with muscle spasticity may have a tight fist, an abnormally bent arm, a stiff knee, or a pointed foot. Not only are these spasms extremely painful but they can interfere with walking or performing routine tasks. Left untreated, muscle spasticity may deform a stroke survivor's limbs, restrict his ability to move, and lead to pressure sores.
Treatment for muscle spasticity may be a mix of rehabilitation therapies, medications, and even surgery.
- Therapies may include full range-of-motion exercises several times a day, gentle stretching of tight muscles, and frequent repositioning of body parts.
- Oral medications include tizanidine, baclofen, benzodiazepines (like Valium and Klonopin), and dantrolene sodium.
- Injected medications include botulinum toxin (also known as Botox), which targets specific muscles and lasts for up to three months. Injected phenol can alleviate pain for up to three years.
- Surgery can block pain and restore some movement. But because of potential complications, it's the option of last resort.
As the caregiver of someone with muscle spasticity, you can help him manage it and get the right treatments.
- Keep an eye out for "frozen" joints. If he's having trouble moving his arm or leg, try bending it for him. If it feels unusually stiff, that's probably due to a muscle spasm.
- Keep track of when and where spasms occur. Also ask his nurses and rehabilitation team what positions typically set off muscle spasms.
- Notify the doctor and rehabilitation team. Let the medical team know if the problem seems to be getting worse.