What Causes Spasticity after Stroke?

What Causes Spasticity after Stroke?

If you asked a doctor what causes spasticity after stroke, he or she would probably recite something like this excerpt:

“Spasticity [is] a motor disorder characterized by a velocity dependent increase in tonic stretch reflexes with exaggerated tendon jerks, resulting from hyperexcitability of the stretch reflex…”

…If you got a little lost, you’re not alone. Medical terminology can get confusing sometimes, so we’re here to set things straight and simple. In this article, you’ll learn what spasticity is, what the causes of spasticity are, what some of the side effects can be, and how spasticity after stroke can be treated. Let’s get started.

What Is Spasticity?

Spasticity involves involuntary muscle contractions that are sometimes painful. Spasticity usually occurs in joints like the elbow, wrist, ankle, fingers, and knee. Common spastic patterns include:

  • Flexed elbow
  • Pronated forearm (palm facing down)
  • Flexed wrist
  • Clenched fist
  • Flexed hip
  • Adducted thigh (moves toward the midline of the body)
  • Stiff or flexed knee
  • Equinovarus foot (twisted foot)

What Causes Spasticity?

Your brain controls your muscle movements through electrical signals that carry messages. When your brain sustains damage after stroke (or other neurological condition), it can damage its ability to communicate with your muscles. This brain-muscle miscommunication is what causes spasticity.

What Side Effects Can Spasticity Cause?

Sometimes spasticity can cause painful muscle cramps. When muscles and joints become stiffened, it can cause limited range of motion (how far your joints can go in different directions) and mobility.

How Can Spasticity Be Treated?

Spasticity can be treated in many different ways. Here are some possible treatments for spasticity from the least invasive to the most:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Orthotics
  • TENS Therapy
  • Medications
  • Injectable treatments (Botox is the only FDA-approved injectable treatment for upper limb spasticity in adults)
  • Surgery

The severity of the spasticity will determine what type of treatment is necessary. Talk with your physician to see what can work for you.

Do you have questions about spasticity? Leave us a comment below and we’ll be sure to get back to you!