Spasticity after spinal cord injury doesn’t have to weigh you down. In fact, it’s completely treatable if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.
What Is Spasticity After Spinal Cord Injury?
You know that euphoric feeling you get when you get up and stretch after sitting for a long time? Imagine being unable to stretch and having that discomfort linger.
That’s kind of what muscle spasticity after spinal cord injury feels like.
Your body sends sensory inputs to your brain through the spinal cord. Normally, the brain responds to these inputs and tells them to relax. With spinal cord injury, the inputs can’t reach the brain, so spasticity occurs.
Spasticity is when you lose voluntary control over your muscles, causing them to contract. This can result in stiffness and spasms.
The goal is to strengthen existing connections in the spinal cord and to promote the regeneration of new connections.
Treatments for Spasticity After Spinal Cord Injury
You need to practice healthy self-care behaviors to reduce spasticity.
Stretching is essential for reducing any tightness or discomfort, but depending on the severity of your spasticity, you may need to seek other forms of treatment.
Treatment can range from light stretching to invasive surgery. It’s common to use a combination of treatments.
What works for one person may not work for another, so it’s crucial that you stay hopeful, determined, and patient.
Let’s find out which treatment is the best option for you.
Physical and occupational therapists can teach you lots of different stretches and activities to reduce spasticity. Repetition is key and rewires your brain to recognize existing and new connections with your muscles.
Therapy will increase your range of motion and teach you how to isolate certain parts of your body. It’s also very convenient because everything is guided to ensure that your recovery goes smoothly.
Milder cases of spasticity may not even need the assistance of professionals, but it’s always a good idea to get properly checked out.
The effects of stretching can last for several hours, but it’s imperative that you continuously practice rebuilding that muscle to brain connection.
In cases of incomplete spinal cord injury, connections to the brain still exist. Locomotor training can help strengthen those connections and contribute to the regeneration of new ones to help regain voluntary control.
There’s no way to cheat physical therapy, but there are a few options to accompany the process.
Oral medications will temporarily relax your muscles by blocking the neurotransmitters that cause muscle contractions.
The most common oral medication is Baclofen. Others include Tizanidine, Clonidine, and Diazepam.
Remember to take oral medications only at the recommended dosages to avoid negative side effects like nausea, fatigue, or dizziness.
Many times when you’re dealing with spinal cord injury, you’re already taking medication so it’s important to check if it’s safe to take them together or not.
Like oral medications, injections will temporarily pause the communication between the nerve and the muscle to decrease the intensity of any reflexes. This makes it easier to participate in physical therapy.
To avoid affecting all your muscles the way oral medications do, injections will target specific muscles.
Botox and oral medications are only temporary and not a substitute for physical therapy. The only way to truly treat spasticity is through repetitive stretching and strengthening exercises.
Cheaper injection options include phenol and alcohol.
Spasticity after spinal cord injury can also be treated with more invasive methods.
One way is to surgically insert a baclofen pump that administers baclofen directly into the spinal cord. This option has a lower risk of side effects than ingesting baclofen because it does not enter the bloodstream and is taken in much smaller doses.
Another option is through electrical stimulation of the nerves. It involves inserting an implant that releases electrical currents in place of the injured area, stimulating nerve activity.
However, surgical intervention is typically a last resort after trying all other treatments because of its invasive and costly nature. Nobody wants to get surgery unless it’s necessary.
What to Expect When Treating Spasticity After Spinal Cord Injury
If you’ve ever been hit by another car, you know that sometimes you might not feel any immediate pain. This is because your body is in shock. It usually isn’t until a couple of days later that you notice back pain.
Spasticity works the same way and can develop around a year before it stabilizes.
The majority of people with spinal cord injury experience spasticity so you’re not alone. Over time, your body naturally adjusts and learns to avoid the actions that trigger it.
There’s no easy way out and you need to put in the work to reap the benefits. It may take some trial and error, but it will all be worth it.
Everybody heals at their own pace and with the right mindset, you can conquer spasticity too!