Spasticity After TBI…

Introduction:  The Pain of the motionless 

I wish I made a better decision at age 29. I figured buying a motorcycle would help me from the pain of spending a lot of money on gas. Instead, I experienced another type of pain, the pain of paralysis, the pain of disappointment, anticipation, and expectation!  Either way…it stinks!! 

When I think about my early days of rehab and working through my ‘new normal’ called brain injury, I noticed I did not have the same feeling on my left side.  I could see my left arm and leg, but I did not have the same control over them!  Was this paralysis??  Also, I wondered if this would be a permanent or temporary situation?  This was definitely painful to be in this position. It was like I was in a car accident with the driver’s side door caved in. It’s like not being able to move my arm or leg until I receive some assistance.  Unfortunately, there is no way to change my current reality. I cannot go back in time to redo my steps.     

What is Spasticity? 

I never knew how much the brain was involved with so many functions in our body. This somehow made sense to me because our brains are the CPU to our body! I recently read an article that talks about the evil deficit spasticity.  

“Spasticity is associated with a condition called hyperreflexia, which causes increased activity of the muscle stretch reflex.  The muscle stretch reflex (myotatic reflex) is a muscle contraction that occurs in response to stretching within the muscle. 

(www.flintrehab.com)

 Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to learn more about this firsthand, rather than going to a medical school to learn about this phenomenon. I struggled through spasticity immediately after my brain injury, and I am still fighting through it 17 years post-accident. I read that TBI will also cause muscle stiffness. If it persists, the muscle fibers can permanently shorten, which leads to limited joint movements and a loss of mobility. That sounds scary!  Can you imagine??  Due to my TBI and lack of movement, I lost the ability to walk and lost strength to throw a baseball. I was always pretty determined to get myself moving again. I did not want to face issues from my immobility.  Dealing with muscle stiffness and the pain from not moving was enough for me!  This article said that the most common areas of contractures effects are:

  • Hips
  • Shoulders
  • Ankles
  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Wrist
  • Hand

Many patients develop contractures in five or more joints. However, early intervention and rehab are appropriate for resolution. When I lived in Chicago, it was very cold! At that time, spasticity affected everything on my body. At various times, I experienced stiffness in all of the joints listed above. This is another situation where deficits pop-up randomly. It is weird and it will definitely keep you on your toes. This is to be expected during this ride called ‘brain injury’.

I do not believe I have found a resolution that will completely relieve the symptoms of spasticity. I have tried stretching, medicine, hot tubs, and massage therapy, all to provide relief.   I wonder if someone has found a cure for spasticity, or if there was a way without medicine to make the pain and stiffness go away for a long time?

Conclusion

This is why all ‘end-users’ (brain injury survivors) need to make sure they get in some daily physical exercise to prevent myotatic reflex.  You need to move all that you can as much as you can!  My accident left me with a left side hemi. Before then, I could use my left hand to legibly write. I could throw a football 20 yards with my left hand, and I could even bowl over 100 consistently with my left hand.  Unfortunately, I cannot do those same things now. It is more of a challenge now than when I used to do it previously. 

I urge you to try new things if they do not frustrate you.  When we overuse one side of our body too much, we can put extra stress on our joints, muscles, and other tissues.  This can lead to pain, swelling, or tenderness.  In my situation, I tried things with my weaker side when I had enough time and space to perform the movement.  I believe making this effort can be advantageous, as it could prevent overuse body parts that can cause injuries. But..expect, on your first try, to fail horribly when trying the activity on your weaker side!  You may be surprised if you do not get frustrated and quit. Keep trying to get better.  These are the things I do today to make myself better even though it’s frustrating and feels foreign.  It is essential and important to do to get better.

“Spasticity After TBI: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments | Flint Rehab.” Flint Rehab, 1 Oct. 2020.

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