Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stretching After Stroke

Address soft tissue shortening.

Until soft tissue shortening is addressed (i.e. muscle tightness), the chronic (post 3 month) survivor has no chance of functional recovery. You can do a ton of hard work but if the muscle length is not there, that's as far as you'll go. It's that simple. This is particularly true of the tendency toward the shortening of soft tissue in the elbow, wrist, finger flexors in the arm and hand. In the leg and foot the main concern is the calf muscle. This muscle often shortens because the calf often has spasticity. Spasticity keeps the foot pointed down in that position, if held long enough will shorten the muscle.

There is a tendency for patients with chronic stroke to limit their stretching of at-risk joints to a few times a day. I would suggest that, given no pathological or orthopedic reasons not to, stretching should be done often. (Always: check with you friendly neighborhood PT or OT!)

Any therapist who works with any patient population with spasticity should know the implications of Botox and intrathecal baclofen, the range of oral medications as well as splinting. The anti-spasticity qualities of these medications are beyond the scope of this article, but they are important in the treatment of spasticity. And therapists are often the clinicians who can redirect patients back to physiatrists and neurologists. These docs then can suggest appropriate meds.

Upon discharge, therapists should "read the riot act" to stroke survivors. Therapists should inform them of the dangers of soft tissue shortening, including decreased function, less chance for future rehabilitation, pain and contracture.

(Note: There is considerable debate about the effectiveness of stretching out spastic muscles. This debate is not among clinicians as much as waged within the world of rehabilitation research. However, even though the scientists are not yet fully convinced, there's reasons to stretch outside of retention of tissue length. For example, the number one cause of poststroke shoulder pain is not subluxation (shoulder separation due to weakness of the shoulder muscles). The number one cause: Adhesions that build up in the capsule the shoulder. What keeps these adhesions at bay? Stretching. Or at least "ranging." "Ranging" is a term that therapists use to mean not necessary to be stretching, but taking the joint through its full range of motion. Ranging is done passively, as his stretching. That is, stroke survivors limb is moved through its available painless range of motion, but some outside force does it. It might be clinician, a caregiver, or the survivor themselves ranging the joint.)


oc1dean said...

I was at a stroke group once when a survivor said, 'You can tell the survivors vs. the caregivers because all the survivors are reflexively opening and closing the fingers on their affected hand with their good hand'.

Mike said...

Great point. Stretching is important for me because it also improves blood cioirculation.Stretching is besyt after the spastic muscle is exercised as the pain is less.

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