What does having spasticity feel like to you?
April 21, 2010 3:24 PM   Subscribe

What does having spasticity feel like to you? CP, MS, stroke, help me understand.

So, I have mild spastic diplegia. I'm trying to differentiate between MY experience of spasticity and what is typical for spasticity in terms of things like tone, clonus, spasms, etc. For example, I feel like my leg muscles are "irritable." That is, if I provoke them by exercising a lot they are more prone to clonus or spasming. I've gotten a spasm in my thigh a couple of times - I think it was what most people refer to as a "charlie horse." All I know is that it was excruciating and brought on by someone else moving my leg too fast. Has anyone else had a muscle spasm because someone else moved your limb too fast? I talked to a physical therapist who seemed to think that quick movement won't cause a cramping spasm in someone with spasticity. Is that really true? That makes no sense to me.

FYI, I have good selective motor control but would be interested to hear from people who don't. What does it feel like to move in a synergistic pattern? Does your body frustrate you? Mine does.

In short, personal stories and experiences are welcome. I'm hoping your experiences will help me understand mine. Thank you for sharing.
posted by ticketmaster10 to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm... I was hoping some other folks would've answered this already because I don't think mine is at all typical. First let me tell you that I've got a pretty mild form of R/R MS, and I only experience what I think of as spasticity every once in a while. And to be clear, what I'm about to describe hasn't been properly diagnosed by my neuro yet since it really only happens on rare occasions and he has so far been unable to provoke it.

What happens for me is that my bicep will suddenly start twitching on its own behalf, so the muscle is contracting over and over again, which causes a lot of muscle tension that winds up radiating through my upper back. Getting a massage on this muscle can be extremely painful, despite the fact that I know it's necessary (and that I ususally prefer deep tissue massage). Wen my bicep decides to fire up I can see the muscle moving under my skin, but my arm never makes involuntary movements.

This bicep thing usually happens when I've got an enormous amount of life stuff going on, and it (unhappily) tends to get me at night, right about the time that I lay my head on the pillow. So it winds up causing a nasty vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and stress.

I highly recommend Iyengar Yoga for any spasticity issues because the classes are kept really small and the instructor will work with you to make sure you're maintaining propper form for the whole duration of the pose (which is much longer than most other types of yoga and particularly helpful for releasing all the pent up tension).

Funny... My doctor has tried to prompt this response numerous times to no avail, but sitting here thinking about how to describe it has made my arm get all twitchy just now. Research study, anyone?

Anyway, feel free to MeMail me if I wasn't specific enough.
posted by ohyouknow at 4:11 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, that's definitely not my experience so thanks for the alternate perspective.

Obviously, I'm not your neurologist but deep pressure tends to decrease muscle tone. So, you could try lying on you arm when it "acts up." Or you could try using a foam roll (see Amazon or a rehab supply store) to decrease the tension. A foam roll is like a firm overly thick pool noodle that people roll on to release tension in their arms, gluts, legs, etc. I've never seen anyone use it for an arm but why not?

As for provoking your symptoms for the neurologist, well, I have the opposite problem. I tell the doc exactly what he's NOT going to do! Have you tried bicep curls in the neurologist's office to sensitive the muscle? ;-)

Thanks again.
posted by ticketmaster10 at 4:33 PM on April 21, 2010

I have mild spastic hemiplegia, and FWIW my spasticity rarely ever includes clonus. (Your description actually makes me wonder if it might not be some sort of hemi-/diplegia difference, because my brother, who has spastic diplegia, gets clonus a lot.) If I exercise a lot mostly what happens is that my (presumably exhausted) non-affected muscles completely refuse to work and I have difficulty, say, walking. Or standing. But not with noticeably increased spasticity.

I also appear to have gotten the exact opposite explanation from physical therapists that you did. My current PT certainly thinks that she can get better stretches out of me if she goes very very slowly. I do still end up inadvertently kicking her, but it's less sudden.

The only time I can think of that I often get muscle spasms is during electrotherapy. If I have the current or ramp-up set too high to try to get the weak muscles moving, they'll move and the opposing spastic muscles will kick in and it hurts. It seems like what you're describing, except it was (in a sense) me moving myself and not someone else moving me; I don't know if that makes a difference. I have also gotten painful spasticity from SSRIs. Apparently some of 'em can do that to you.

My experience with spasticity is really more the feeling that I'm fighting my muscles to get anything done. My right arm likes to drift up to by my face if I am not consciously holding it down. Right now I am immobilizing it under my laptop as I type because I have tendonitis in my shoulder and my arm doesn't care that its favorite position is painful.

If I want to, say, pick something up, I have to really, consciously relax my fingers to get them to loosen up out of the swan-neck position, and then I have to try to pick the thing up without trying too hard, because if I'm trying to pick it up then the spastic muscles kick in and nothing's gonna happen. (Once I get it picked up, it's not going anywhere unless I grab it with my other hand.) My fine-motor control is pretty crappy; bracing for stability helps a little but not much, and I've mostly decided it's not worth the annoyance of the braces.

I think hemiplegia especially makes life weird because you have unaffected limbs to compare yourself to, so you know what the other limb might have been like if you hadn't had a brain hemorrhage at two days old. (Or whatever your situation is.) Like, I can roll my left ankle outward. Great. I absolutely cannot roll my right ankle out. And it feels like I'm thinking the same thing, but nothing's happening. (At least with diplegia I would assume both your legs are affected similarly, yeah?)

I don't know if there is a typical experience of spasticity. CP is basically the term for anyone who's had perinatal brain damage, and I get the impression that we're all, you know, special snowflakes. But I am interested to see the results.
posted by sineala at 4:44 PM on April 21, 2010

Chiming in with my CP spasticity experience. I can't be more specific as to my type of CP as no one's ever told me. If it helps at all to know, quite mild, mostly affecting left leg, left arm.

My experience with spasticity is really more the feeling that I'm fighting my muscles to get anything done.

This is what it feels like for me as well. I also tend to liken it to walking through quicksand or walking with ankle weights on. My brain and the rest of my body wants me to move a certain way, but it's just not happening. It really is a fight every step of the way (pun sort of intended).

My current PT certainly thinks that she can get better stretches out of me if she goes very very slowly.

This is always what I've been told as well. Moving more slowly gives the muscle more time to 'warm-up' to what you're trying to get it to do. Moving through exercises fast has always been counter-productive for me.

No muscle spasms here, at least not that I'm aware of.
posted by aclevername at 9:20 AM on April 22, 2010

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