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Spasticity happens to many stroke survivors – but help is available.

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, your2:

  • 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 include2-4:

  • 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

Do these challenges or symptoms sound familiar?

If some of the challenges associated to post-stroke spasticity sound familiar, take the online post-stroke assessment.

Post-Stroke Assessment

What does spasticity look like?2-4

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 caused2:

  • 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 installing5,6:

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

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.7

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).

Ready to seek help from a specialist?

If you've taken the post-stroke assessment and believe you may be suffering from post-stroke spasticity, a stroke rehabilitation specialist may be able to help you. A referral is required from your family doctor in order to get an appointment with a stroke rehabilitation specialist.

Marilyn’s Story

My husband had a stroke three years ago, just two months shy of retiring from his job as a police officer. John received good care in the hospital and shortly afterwards. I thought I knew quite a bit about stroke, having had a father who suffered a stroke when I was young, but one of the biggest eye-openers for me was how stroke can affect someone long after they’ve had it.

In my husband’s case, I noticed his right hand beginning to spasm and curl about six months after his stroke. It was very odd to me. John said he couldn’t control it and it was becoming quite painful. I did some of my own research on the physical effects of stroke and came across “spasticity”. It seemed to me that this is what John was experiencing. There are many healthcare professionals out there who have lots of general knowledge about stroke, but it seemed that spasticity was something that needed to be addressed by a stroke rehabilitation physician. I found a stroke rehabilitation physician nearby and went to our family doctor to ask if we could be referred to him. Our doctor set up the referral and suggested we continue with physiotherapy and stretching exercises in the meantime. A few months later, John saw the neurologist, got set up with a physiotherapist who specializes in spasticity and started receiving medical treatment.

John continues to take things day by day, but since starting treatment, the spasms have been more controlled, and he is experiencing less pain. He is even starting to pick up some of his old hobbies, including cooking and experimenting with new cuisines. Stroke was hard on both of us, but John and I are confident that with continued treatment and a commitment to physiotherapy and exercise, we’ll both be OK. In fact, I have some fantastic French cooking waiting for me at home right now!

See Jennifer's story

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