Thursday, May 2nd, 2019
Spasticity is a common symptom or after-effect of a host of medical conditions and injuries, affecting millions of individuals around the globe. This neuromuscular condition is characterized by motor impairments and weakness, and managing it can be trying for both patients and their loved ones. Every instance of spasticity is unique, and effective rehabilitation will require a personalized approach utilizing the latest evidence-based techniques. Fortunately, patients can decrease spasticity related stiffness, improve fine motor skills, and reduce the frequency of severe muscle spasms with the right strategy and assistive devices, like the state-of-the-art spasticity orthotics offered by Saebo.
Spasticity is a neuromuscular condition resulting from damage to the spinal cord or portions of the brain that control voluntary muscle movements. There are many underlying illnesses and injuries that may lead to this neuromuscular condition. It’s been estimated that up to 38 percent of stroke survivors, for example, will experience spasticity. During a stroke, a portion of the brain is starved of oxygen, leading to the death of brain tissue. These damaged brain cells may impede the ability of the brain to communicate with muscles throughout the body. As is the case with a stroke, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and spinal cord injuries (SCI) may also result in damage to these neural pathways, disrupting the signals our brains use to control our various muscular systems.
Post TBI spasticity symptoms may not be present immediately following the injury but will normally appear within the first 6 months. Other disorders and diseases, including cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, may also cause spasticity.
Regardless of the underlying cause, spasticity symptoms generally follow similar patterns.
Typical spasticity symptoms include tight or stiff muscles, and this stiffness may result in mobility and dexterity impairments. Basic movements may be imprecise and difficult to control due to weakness and involuntary muscular contractions. Extended, painful instances of severe muscular spasms are also common. These contractions typically affect the arms and legs, although
it’s possible to experience sudden muscle spasms along the back, chest, and abdomen as well.
These spasticity spasms can be severe and excruciating and may be triggered by the lightest touch, or even tightly fitting clothing. Spasticity symptoms also include joint stiffness, decreased range of motion, muscle fatigue, and lower back pain for some individuals.
It’s important to remember that spasticity may lead to other side effects if left untreated, including overactive reflexes, pressure sores, joint deformities, or contractures, which is a permanent shortening of muscles. Whether these symptoms are the result of a stroke, spinal cord injury, or traumatic brain injury spasticity, there are many effective treatments to consider.
Today, the range of available spasticity treatments is more nuanced than ever. Depending on the cause and severity of the condition, your doctor may recommend one or more of these approaches for best results. In severe instances of spasticity, a doctor may also recommend surgery as a last resort. Typically, these surgeries involve releasing or lengthening tendons to reduce tension. In some cases, it may be necessary to heat the affected nerve to permanently prevent it from transmitting electrical signals, a process known as denervation. Fortunately, most instances of spasticity can be adequately treated with a multifaceted rehabilitation strategy.
Spasticity medications (namely muscle relaxers) are often used to block neurotransmitters and prevent muscle contractions, however, there are drawbacks to consider. For example, muscle relaxers will relax all of your muscles rather than specifically targeting the muscles afflicted with spasticity. Unlike muscle relaxers, Botox injections are used to pinpoint specific muscles, treating only the areas affected by spasticity. Botox is a neurotoxin, and Botox injections for spasticity are used to block the chemical signals that cause muscle contractions, effectively reducing the risk of muscle spasms. Botox injections do come with some side effects to consider, inducing soreness, rash, and muscle weakness. It’s also important to remember that these injections are not a one-shot spasticity cure, and patients will need to return every three to four months for additional Botox injections for spasticity.
Physical therapy and stretching exercises are also widely used to treat spasticity. These spasticity treatment exercises focus on increasing range of motion, to minimize stiffness and prevent tendon shortening. Depending on the severity of spasticity, some patients may need assistance to adequately perform these exercises. A physical therapist will guide patients through the exercises at first, and then design a regimen allowing them to perform these stretching exercises at home. Individuals should practice these exercises at least three times each day for best results. Spasticity treatment exercises are typically used alongside other therapies, and the latest dynamic movement orthoses will also play an important role in the recovery process for patients.
In the past, static splints were widely used to keep the arm and wrist in a neutral position. However, recent research has shown that static splints are not an effective spasticity treatment for preventing contracture. In contrast, the SaeboStretch allows the fingers to move through flexion, gently stretching the muscles of the hand and wrist. Over time, this device may lead to decreased tone and allow the hand to return to a normal resting position, resulting in decreased pain. To assist with multiple levels of spasticity, the SaeboStretch includes three interchangeable hand components.
Individuals suffering from mild spasticity may prefer the low-profile SaeboGlove , designed to decrease spasticity symptoms and make it easier to move stiff or sore joints. The SaeboGlove can be beneficial for stroke survivors and those who have suffered an orthopedic injury, even if the symptoms have already persisted for years after the initial incident. This device is engineered to support specific joints and muscles, and this specialized artificial system can be adjusted as individuals regain strength and mobility during the rehabilitation process. More severe cases of spasticity may require an orthotic with additional support, like the SaeboFlex, and patients suffering from severe spasticity with limited elbow mobility may prefer the SaeboReach.
Whether your symptoms are the result of a stroke, spinal cord injury, or traumatic brain injury spasticity, recovery is possible with the right strategy, skilled guidance, and the latest assistive devices on the market.
Saebo’s spasticity orthotic offerings are designed to help with both mild and severe spasticity, and patients can progress from one orthotic to the next model as they regain strength and dexterity during the rehabilitation process.
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.