Sunday, June 19, 2011

Such a Spaz

When I was a kid, one of my favorite expressions was "Don't have a spaz," which I would say to someone who had lost emotional control. I didn't know it then, but spaz is a derivative of "spasticity," which is a common result of stroke. It describes a state of continuous, uncontrollable muscle contractions.

Absent the proper signals from my brain, my fingers clench into a fist. My arm curls toward my chest. My foot turns inward, pulled by tight muscles along my inner leg. My chest constricts like a steel band around my lung. Sometimes it's hard to breathe.

I am on two types of medication to counteract this problem – daily oral baclofen and quarterly Botox injections.They both ease but do not eliminate the symptoms.

My therapists tell me that I can learn to control the spasticity. For each movement, I concentrate on extending one set of muscles then contracting the opposing muscles. To straighten my arm, I focus on relaxing my bicep then recruiting my tricep. It's exhausting mental and physical work. I sometimes break a sweat just moving a can of tomato paste.

My no-longer neurologist told me that I'd be fighting spasticity the rest of my life. I'm not sure how that statement is supposed to help me. As someone who cultivated flexibility during 10 years of yoga, the idea of spending the next 30-plus years with half my body contracted totally makes me have a spaz.


  1. Ah Marcelle, spasticity is the main reason I am having a hard time recovering. I am not smart enough to tell one set of muscles to relax and at the same time tell the other set to contract. I don't think anyone has figured out how to get from stage to stage in Brunnstroms stages of recovery. And if I am walking while doing this it means controlling multiple sets of muscles.

  2. Every day, I am grateful that I experience a minimal amount of spasticity. I use a splint at night now so that my hand is soft and relaxed every morning. I wake up during the night most nights because of the pain it causes as my spastic muscles fight against the splint. Small price to pay, though, as far as I can see, to prevent a death grip.

    And, Dean, you know that talking to our muscles has nothing to do with how smart a survivor is...

  3. Neurologists say discouraging things because they don't keep up with advances in rehab and don't see the improvements that make our lives easier as a cure.

  4. @Dean I just looked up Brunnstroms - had never heard of it before. I have no way of knowing where I am. Have you ever seen timeframes associated with it? Of course, I've always found the timeframes I've been given to be completely irrelevant, but it's hard not to crave some sort of measurement.

    @Rebecca Oh. They are a strange breed, aren't they?

  5. Even therapists don't know about Brunnstroms, they seem to prefer Bobath/NDT. No one ever gives you any kind of prognosis because we don't have a longitudinal study like Farminghans' heart study. Hey, don't you know the truth, 'All strokes are different, all stroke recoveries are different'. Neuros use this as an excuse not to have to think