Friday, July 25, 2014

Flaccid or spastic; what strategy works best?

Here's a recently email question I got....

Hi there,

I recently read your article about spasticity located here

The article seems to focus on therapies and treatments for patients who still have some motor control over muscles -- i.e. the brain is still in the loop.  Would the same treatments apply to a patient with little or no muscle control over muscles. i.e. muscles remain mostly flaccid post stroke.  Or is there little in the way of physical therapy that can be applied in this situation?

Specific patient is currently being treated with ativan and tizanidine, with the resulting effect that their ability to remain active is significantly deteriorated due to drowsiness.

Thanks,
(Name withheld)


Muscles hate to be overstretched, so if the brain is not online (as is often true after stroke) the muscles rely on the spinal cord to take over the job of protecting the muscles from being overstretched. But the spinal cord is a dumb brain. It can only tell muscles to tighten. The bottom line is: once the spinal cord takes over you end up with tight spastic muscles.

There is emerging research that suggests that if you can reestablish brain control over spastic muscles, the spinal cord will get it out of the way, and spasticity will decline.

So, as you can see the question, above, is a bit confusing because the writer asks, "Will the same treatments apply… in muscles that remained mostly flaccid post stroke?"

When the muscle is flaccid, there is no brain control over the muscle. If that's the case early in recovery (the first few weeks) you may find that the survivor becomes spastic or regains voluntary movement through the arc of recovery. But if the survivor is flaccid for more than a few weeks, the only thing that may have potential is electrical stimulation.  

(Note: because tizanidine -trade name Zanaflex- in particular is used specifically for spasticity, the person you are talking about is spastic. In that case they would have voluntary control into flexion - i.e. if you passively stretch the fingers to "open" the hand, they can squeeze your hand. If this is true, then I'd follow this strategy. It is a common misconception that everyone who is spastic has no control over their muscles. If they can squeeze, have them squeeze over and over and over and over... Tough to do when "their ability to remain active is significantly deteriorated due to drowsiness.")

If you want to see all this blog's entries on spasticity click here.

1 comment:

kyle reynolds said...

I am a big fan of your work and book. My name is Kyle Reynolds; I'm a young stroke survivor looking to connect with others to raise awareness for stroke. Feel free to check out my blog. Fightstroke.com

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