Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Definitions for Recovery

In the hospital I acquired a stroke survivor's vocabulary. My left arm was "flaccid" – hanging loose and limp. Then "tone" set in. Normal muscle tone is a state of balanced tension – not too loose and not too tight. My muscles have too much tone: they are no longer "elastic," they are "spastic": characterized by tightness and lack of coordination.

Many of the medical personnel who have treated me use "spasticity" as a blanket term to describe the muscle tightness commonly felt by stroke survivors. However, the two therapists who work with me most frequently attribute some of my symptoms to "spasm." I am not only spastic, I am “spasmodic.”

What is the difference?

Spastic (spasticity) describes a neurological condition that causes the muscles to over-contract when in use, thus creating a sensation of tightness; spasticity is velocity-induced tightness.

Spasmodic (spasm) refers to a physical condition in which muscles contract because the nerves are irritated. Spasm can be in effect even when the muscles are at rest.

Why is this important?

Spasm can be corrected permanently. By breaking spasm, muscles can achieve a greater range of motion. This, in turn, allows greater options for strengthening the muscle. Muscle weakness is a common factor in both spasm and spasticity. Strengthening muscle counteracts both conditions. 

I’ve been told spasticity will be with me the rest of my life; but I’ve also been told that strengthening muscles and repetitive use to form new neural pathways can reduce its impact to the point where it won’t bother me much of the time. This is what I’m working toward.

Next post: How the A-Team and I are breaking spasms and fighting spasticity.


  1. When will you make your next post? I am looking forward to reading it.

  2. All of these definitions have a grain of truth. Now that I can feel spasticity I've decided it's most important characteristic is losing the ability to do reciprocal movement because we can't relax a muscle after we use it. Reciprocal movements are alternating movements, like opening your hand after you close it. I agree with your A-team. We can relearn how to turn muscles on and off.

  3. Thanks, Marcelle, for another intelligent and positive assessment of your recovery progress. Having broken both my legs and my right ankle in a car accident in 1979, I have pushed the envelope of my recovery as well. There are more things I can do than can't and with the right fitting shoes I walk, ride a bike, work, dance moderately, and hang out with my friends. You have a great attitude - I love your blogs!


  4. This is so interesting blog. You are best listing knowledge provide at this site. I am very excited read this nice article. You can visit my website.
    upper back spasms