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Spasticity

Sometimes a stroke can damage a part of the brain that controls certain muscles in the body. The muscles become tight and stiff and resist being stretched. This is called spasticity. Spasticity usually affects the arms, fingers, or legs. You feel as though you have no control over the muscles that are affected. For example, your:7

  • Arm is curled up against your chest
  • Fist is tight
  • Foot points downward and interferes with walking (called “foot drop”)
  • You may also have painful muscle spasms

Other signs and symptoms of spasticity include:7,10,11

  • Muscle spasms, contractions and/or cramping (similar to cramps that can happen during exercise)
  • Stiffness in the arms, hands, legs or feet
  • Uncontrollable movement or jerking (called “clonus”)
  • Increased muscle tone or resistance
  • Abnormal postures
  • Reflexes that are over-excited

What does spasticity look like?


Your hand may stay clenched in a tight fist.

Your wrist may curl, with your arm tightened against your body.
foot rolled over to side
Your toes may point downwards and stiffen.

How can spasticity affect your daily life?

Depending on which muscles are affected, and how severely, spasticity can impact your daily life. For example, if spasticity has caused:

  • Your wrist to curl and tighten to your chest, you may find it difficult to brush your teeth or bathe.
  • Your toes to point downward and stiffen, you may struggle to stand up or walk.

There are a few modifications you can make at home to help you live with spasticity, and ensure your safety, such as installing:12

  • Ramps
  • Grab bars
  • Raised toilet seats
  • Shower or tub bench
  • Plastic adhesive strips
    on the bottom of the bathtub

Remember, you and your loved ones are important advocates for getting the best care possible. Discuss any and all symptoms with your doctor, including how they affect your daily living, so he or she can determine if a specialist referral is best for you.
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Why is managing spasticity important?

It’s important to talk to your doctor if you have spasticity symptoms because spasticity can worsen over time. One study showed that more than 1 in 4 (27%) stroke survivors had greater spasticity 6 weeks after having had a stroke.13

Spasticity occurs across post-stroke continuum. 6 weeks post stroke, 27% show spasticity signs. 6 months later, 52% have contracture in at least one joint (n=165).

Spasticity can develop weeks, months, or even years after a stroke – so it’s important to be aware of what spasticity is, and to seek the help from a specialist if it occurs. There are treatments available that can help. Your doctor can refer you to a Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist who can discuss your treatment options.

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Did you know...
30% of stroke survivors develop spasticity

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