How Physical Therapy Can Treat Spasticity

General Neurology located in Albuquerque, NM

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How Physical Therapy Can Treat Spasticity

Physical therapy strengthens the brain’s ability to create new networks for movement, improving symptoms of stiff muscles. Treatment can improve the ability to carry out daily tasks, thereby improving quality of life.

Damage to the brain, spinal cord, or nerves that send messages to your muscles can cause spasticity, a condition that causes the muscles to involuntarily stiffen. When spasticity occurs it can be debilitating. Treating spasticity is essential to restoring normal movement.


At Neurology Specialists of Albuqurque, our board-certified neurologist Dr. Timothy Ownbey takes the utmost care in diagnosing and treating neurological diseases and disorders, such as spasticity. Multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, a traumatic brain injury or a stroke can cause spasticity, which can make doing simple tasks extremely difficult. 


If you or a loved one has spasticity, treatment approaches, including physical therapy, can reduce your symptoms and improve independent function. 

What is spasticity?


Spasticity is the unintentional contraction of a muscle. It results from a breakdown in communication between the brain and the muscle, similar to a frayed wire that is short circuiting. 


A stroke, for example, can cause a significant connection loss between the muscle and the brain. Since they no longer receive a strong signal from the brain, muscles end up responding to other impulses. The result is an involuntary movement of an arm or leg.  


Muscles may begin responding to many messages if the brain fails to send a clear signal. Loud noises, strong emotions, and bright lights can trigger muscles that are spastic.  

Physical therapy helps spasticity


Spasticity can have a substantial impact on movement and the capacity to perform even simple daily activities, such as standing from a sitting position. The goal of physical therapy is to help the patient function as independently as possible. 


Exercises designed to improve spasticity improve the brain’s ability to create new pathways (neuroplasticity) to accomplish functions. Moving and stretching can also help patients avoid some of the long-term symptoms of spasticity, such as contracture.


A physical therapist will establish a specific treatment plan focused at lowering muscle tension and improving strength and mobility in the affected areas.


To help relieve pain and muscular tension, physical therapists may also utilize moist heat, electrical stimulation, and low-level laser therapy. Casting or orthotics may also be utilized to improve specific joint mobility or to avoid additional motion loss. 

Functioning more independently


While physical therapy doesn’t cure spasticity, it can help minimize it, and improve the patient’s functioning and quality of life. Physical therapy treatment aims to alleviate spasticity as much as possible in order to prevent joint problems and allow patients to live more independently.


The sooner patients begin physical therapy, the better. Physical therapy is routinely provided in the hospital following a stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, or any neurological impairment that may result in spasticity.


Physical therapy treatment can begin as soon as the patient receives medical clearance. 

What to expect from physical therapy for spasticity


Therapists create individualized treatment plans based on individual symptoms and goals. A physical therapist will walk the patient through a series of stretches designed to improve muscle length and joint mobility. 


Strengthening the muscles that perform the opposing movement of the spastic muscle may also enhance joint mobility and function. Most significantly, they would strive to improve the ability to walk, get out of bed, and other activities.


To relieve muscle tension and spasticity, Dr. Ownbey may prescribe medication such as muscle relaxants, benzodiazepines, or anticonvulsants.


Occupational therapy is beneficial for patients who are having trouble doing daily activities. Occupational therapists assist clients in regaining their independence by strengthening hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and learning or relearning how to conduct routine tasks.

If your spasticity is painful or interferes with your daily life, Dr. Ownbey can work with you to manage it. To learn more about treatments for spasticity, schedule a visit with Neurology Specialists of Albuquerque by calling 505-302-2765 today. You can also book online or send us a message here on our site, and a member of our team will get back to you.