When blood flow to the brain is obstructed through the buildup of plaque or a blood clot, that area of the brain becomes deprived of critical nutrients and oxygen (via National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). As a result, brain cells immediately begin to die off. This is what occurs during an ischemic stroke. Brain bleeding due to a ruptured blood vessel can also lead to another kind of stroke known as a hemorrhagic stroke. Any kind of stroke warrants immediate emergency medical attention.
While the side effects of a stroke will depend on which brain regions were affected, the most common side effects experienced by patients in the aftermath of a stroke include weakness or paralysis isolated to one side of the body. They may also have difficulties with communication, learning, and understanding, according to the Better Health Channel.
However, a lesser known common side effect of a stroke is a condition known as spasticity, reports the American Stroke Association. Characterized by involuntary muscle contractions and muscle stiffness that can hinder movement, roughly 25% to 43% of people will experience spasticity within a year following a stroke. The condition is most often observed in the ankle, elbow, or wrist.
Treatment methods for spasticity symptoms
Spasticity occurs due to a breakdown of communication between the brain, nerves, and muscles responsible for physical movement, explains Self. "One of the things that’s particularly striking about spasticity is the harder you fight it, the worse it is," Dr. Bradford B. Worrall, a professor of neurology and public health at the University of Virginia, tells the publication. Dr. Worrall goes on to explain the value of physical therapy when it comes to recovery. "If you have spasticity in your elbow and you take a very gentle, slow approach you may be able to bend your elbow, but the faster and harder you push, you may get a reflexive contraction that stops the movement," Dr. Worrall told Self.
In addition to physical and occupational therapy, research has shown the potential of Botox to help treat symptoms of stroke-related spasticity (per ScienceDaily). A 2007 longitudinal study, published in Clinical Research and Medicine, was conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center to look into Botox. A total of 279 stroke patients were issued as many as five Botox treatment injections in their affected upper limb over the course of a year. Through patient assessments taken every six weeks, researchers found that symptoms of spasticity, pain frequency, and pain levels in the elbow, wrist, fingers, or thumbs were greatly reduced. As described in the research, the drug worked by blocking overactive nerve signals responsible for involuntary muscle spasms.