Life After a Stroke
(first Posted by Emily Shearing Jan 07 2015)
Exercise can help with post-stroke spasticity.If your muscles are unusually tight and you have difficulty getting around or performing simple tasks after a stroke, you’re not alone. Estimates show that half of all stroke survivors struggle with spasticity.
Stroke often causes muscles to spasm uncontrollably, much like having a charley horse. Because the muscle isn’t properly stretching, the stiffness caused by spasticity can eventually lead to muscles shortening and settling in an unnatural and sometimes painful position.
Regular physical activity and daily stretching of the affected limb is often the first and most effective form of treatment for spasticity.
Muscle relaxers improve mobility of the affected limbs by acting on the central nervous system to block the nerves that contract muscles. Doctors may prescribe medications such as baclofen (Lioresal), tizanidine hydrochloride (Zanaflex), benzodiazepines (Valium and Klonopin), and dantrolene sodium (Dantrium).
Although patients may find it easier to move because of the medications, common side effects of oral medications include weakness, nausea, and drowsiness.
Similar to oral medications, injectables relax the muscles via nerve transmissions. Botulinum toxin (Botox or Myobloc) is more commonly known for its anti-aging benefit of reducing wrinkles, but is also approved by the FDA to treat muscle spasms. The injections may take up to two weeks to go into effect and can last anywhere between two and six months. Unlike oral medications, injectables won’t cause drowsiness, but they may cause discomfort, soreness, or rash at the injection site or muscle weakness.
While undergoing these injections, exercise and stretching is also recommended by physicians to maximize the effects of the treatment.
As a last resort, doctors may recommend surgery for the most severe cases of spasticity. Options include:
- A surgically implanted pump that administers medication to the fluid around the spinal cord
- Orthopedic surgery to alter tendons or muscles
- Neurological surgery
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