Spasticity and Stroke

Prevalence and Effects

According to a recent survey conducted by National Stroke Association, three in five stroke survivors experience the symptoms of spasticity, and among those experiencing the symptoms of post-stroke spasticity (tight, stiff muscles) only 50 percent were receiving treatment. Treatment for post-stroke spasticity most commonly includes range of motion exercises, stretching, oral medication, and injections. Another treatment option for post-stroke spasticity is intrathecal baclofen therapy, or ITB therapy. This treatment involves a procedure in which a surgeon places a pump under the skin of the patient. The pump releases medication directly into the area around the spinal cord.

Recent studies indicate that there are several factors that predict the prevalence of spasticity in stroke survivors including: stroke lesions in the brain stem, experiencing a hemorrhagic stroke at a young age, weakness in the arms and legs post-stroke, and a lack of sensitivity on one side of the body after a stroke. Research indicates that post-stroke spasticity reaches its peak one to three months after the first stroke incident. In stroke survivors, spasticity in the arms is more common than in the legs.

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Treatment and Management

Post-stroke spasticity can affect a survivor’s recovery and rehabilitation plan. While spasticity itself is not progressive, the accompanying symptoms and disabilities that come with spasticity can contribute to a decline in quality of life and ability to care for oneself independently. The muscle stiffness that accompanies spasticity can be painful and prohibitive to completing prescribed therapeutic interventions. Spasticity symptoms can also prevent restorative sleep which is crucial to a survivor’s ability to dedicate time and energy to rehabilitation plans. Stiffness causes a decrease in muscle movement and neuroplasticity. In addition, disability can increase the longer that spasticity is untreated.


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