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ARNI SPASTICITY AFTER STROK 600x330 - Spasticity after Stroke: Will my Hand Get Better? - Stroke Exercise Training

Upper limb spasticity is suffered by a full 70% of the stroke population, By three months post stroke 19% of people will experience spasticity and this figure increases to 38% of people after 12 months.

Did you know that it’s one of the biggest things that survivors tell consultants, GPs, family, carers and friends that they wish they could positively alter?

Spasticity can develops months or even a year after stroke — and often may become more noticeable as recovery moves on and can have a very significant bearing on your quality of life. Let’s look at what spasticity is:

  • Spasticity - Spasticity after Stroke: Will my Hand Get Better? - Stroke Exercise TrainingMuscle stiffness;
  • Upper extremity hypertonia (excessive muscle activity);
  • Loss of fine motor control (for example small hand movements);
  • Paresis;
  • Soft tissue contracture;
  • Muscle overactivity leading to the reduced ability to relax;
  • Muscle spasms;
  • Changes in limb posture; and
  • Muscle fatigue.

Let’s see if you can grab some tips here to help you beat its limitations.

Spasticity is caused by miscommunication between your brain and your muscles. It has neural and non-neural components to it. Let’s delve deeper: knowledge is power,

Normally your muscles are in constant communication with your brain about how much tension they’re feeling, and the brain has to constantly monitor this tension to prevent tearing. Your brain continuously sends out messages telling your muscles when to contract and relax.

1st layer to spasticity:

When a stroke damages part of the brain responsible for muscle control, this communication is thrown off.

The damaged part of your brain no longer receives the messages that your muscles are trying to send, and as a result, your brain no longer tells them when to contract or relax.

So, your muscles keep themselves in a constant state of contraction in order to protect themselves.

2019 07 29 15 39 42 225x300 - Spasticity after Stroke: Will my Hand Get Better? - Stroke Exercise Training

2nd layer to spasticity:

While your muscles are always in communication with your brain, they’re also in communication with your spinal cord.

Usually the spinal cord takes the messages from your muscles and sends them up to the brain.

But since the brain is no longer reading those messages, your affected muscles have ‘nothing to talk to’.

So, the spinal cord takes over, but it doesn’t know how to properly operate your muscles. It really only has one goal: to prevent your muscles from tearing.

In order to do that, your spinal cord sends signals to keep your muscles in a constant state of contraction (flexion), which is what causes spasticity.

For instance, your spinal cord does not want your arm flapping about and becoming liable to be damaged, hence the typical pattern of spasticity of flexed elbow, wrist, finger and thumb joints that you may see others have or have yourself.

Your spinal cord has the best intentions; to prevent your muscles from tearing. But it’s frustrating because spasticity can cause muscles in your arms or legs to tighten uncontrollably, causing pain and discomfort. Certain muscles (such as the muscles that bend your fingers) can become continuously contracted. Spasticity depends on the speed with which muscles are moved. So, the faster a passive stretch is made, the faster your resistance to it will be.

Other symptoms may include clonus (a series of rapid muscle contractions), muscle spasms, scissoring (involuntary crossing of the legs), and fixed joints.

The degree of spasticity varies from mild muscle stiffness to severe, painful, and uncontrollable spasms.

Don’t think of spasticity as all bad though: although it may cause shortening, it is keeping your flexor muscles strong. This ‘spasticity strength’ can be used functionally too, in a number of ways, particularly to help you conduct tasks. It is very difficult to achieve reduction from spasticity. There is no global answer to eradicating spasticity.

However, a very good start at progressive spasticity decline work  can be made via a mix of performing constant stretching in an effort to keep your muscles long, plus the introduction of an anti-spasticity drug if appropriate, plus a progressive task-training programme is a good start. I’ll show you a good way to do ‘task training’ below the very brief note about Botox.

botox arni stroke rehab - Spasticity after Stroke: Will my Hand Get Better? - Stroke Exercise TrainingA good example of a global (oral) medication is Baclofen (Lioresal), which relaxes your muscles by ‘turning down’ your nervous system. The downside of this is that it can also cause you to feel drowsy, confused, dizzy, weak, tired or to have a headache. Another drug, Tizanidine (Zanaflex) also helps with spasticity by stopping your muscles from spasming and it can also ease pain. Because it lasts for a short time, Tizanidine is best used only when you need it for relief or to be able to complete certain activities.

An example of a localised medication is Botulinum Toxin (Botox). It has been designed so that it can be safely injected directly into target sites to block the nerves from sending messages to the muscles, causing them to relax. The evidence shows that it decreases spasticity, but likely does not improve upper limb motor function. But still, it is worthwhile having if your consultant considers that it is appropriate that you go for assessment.

If you go for Botox, ask if the injection(s) will be guided by ultrasonography rather than by electrical stimulation or palpation. Also, it is easy for the injection to limit existing useful underlying motor movement from occurring, so care needs to be taken and a robust physical training regime must be in place before injections in order to maximise efficacy.

Further, in combination with electrical stimulation or modified constraint induced movement therapy, it is possible that you are likely to improve muscle tone in your upper limb, although advice MUST be sought from your GP and/or consultant at all times.

So, what do you do to train your contralesional hand? First, think about the huge amount of repetitions you need to do. You have to. It’s the only way I personally got my upper limb back from a pattern of spasticity to virtual ‘normality’.

Training should be done every day: and a large daily amount of task-specific work is required. Repetitions.

So, you need a ‘go-to’ set-up in order to make this easy. Advised are my two best ‘go-to’s.

Advice: Stretching precedes tasks. and allows you to access them (particularly if you cannot sustain a gap between your thumb and forefinger. Successful stretching can also increase the number of repetitions available to you. So, STRETCHING ENABLES THE TASK. It also ‘EXTENDS TIME ON TASK.’ I detail all this in the Successful Stroke Survivor manual.

Kit-wise: an all in one ‘reverse gripper’ called Neurogripper which repetitively opens the hand in a gradated manner, combined with daily use of the Task Training Board, combined of course with testing progess via your activities of daily life, is a way to push your rehab to the next stage.

RECIPE TO DO DAILY TASK TRAINING – use hand stretch device Neurogripper with a Task Training Board 

Neurogripper ARNI 225x300 - Spasticity after Stroke: Will my Hand Get Better? - Stroke Exercise Trainingred 1 ARNI task board 300x200 - Spasticity after Stroke: Will my Hand Get Better? - Stroke Exercise Training

 

upper limb stroke ARNI Oxford trial 770x330 - Difficulty moving arm/hand after stroke? Neurofeedback - Stroke Exercise Training

Heidi Johansen-Berg is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Director of The Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging at the University of Oxford. There, she leads the Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain. Her research focuses on how the brain changes with learning, experience, and damage. 

As well as shedding light on how the healthy brain responds to change, her team’s work also has implications for understanding and treating disease. For example, they are testing new methods for rehabilitation after stroke and assessing whether taking up exercise could slow the effects of age on the brain.

DO YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY USING YOUR HAND/ARM AFTER STROKE?

If so, Professor Johnsen Berg-has asked us to disseminate a study in which you may be interested in participating – or you may know someone who is.

stroke arni upper limb oxford study 300x225 - Difficulty moving arm/hand after stroke? Neurofeedback - Stroke Exercise TrainingThe aim for this study is to research a treatment method to see if can improve upper limb function.

Many stroke survivors experience weakness to one side of the body, leaving them with difficulties in daily activities. Current physical therapies are limited in their success and are very time demanding. Therefore, treatments to use alongside rehabilitation are sought.

Learning is an important part of rehabilitation after stroke. When learning a new movement or skill it is important to get feedback so that you can repeat movements that were successful or try to adapt ones that did not work as well. What if there was a way to also get feedback of your brain activity when trying different movements?

Researchers at the University of Oxford are currently testing a new type of treatment for stroke survivors using MRI Neurofeedback. Neurofeedback involves participants being shown a live visual display of their brain activity whilst in an MRI scanner so that they can see which kinds of movements are best to increase the activity in the brain hemisphere where the stroke occurred.

Participants are asked to lie in the scanner and try to move their affected hand in different ways. The activity of their brain is recorded while they perform these movements and then shown to them as a ‘thermometer type’ bar that gets bigger with more activity.

Previous neurofeedback studies by Dr Heather Neyedli of the University of Oxford (Neyedli et al., Neuroscience, 2017) tried showing real or placebo feedback while volunteers who had not had a stroke moved their hands. They found that people could use this technique to change their brain activity while moving their hand.

There has been limited work with stroke survivors using this technique and researchers at Oxford are currently looking for people who have difficulty using their hand/arm after a stroke to take part in some MRI neurofeedback sessions to see if this treatment can improve motor function.

If you would like to join this study/find out more, please feel free to contact the researchers:

Mr Tom Smejka: thomas.smejka@ndcn.ox.ac.uk

Dr Melanie Fleming: melanie.fleming@ndcn.ox.ac.uk

Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg: heidi.johansen-berg@ndcn.ox.ac.uk

 

CALL 01865 611461

 

Example of visual display showing increasing brain activity

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Below is a talk given by Professor Johansen-Berg – click and play!

 

stroke rehab ARNI Armeo 770x290 - Does your therapy end too quickly? - Stroke Exercise Training

Many years of research suggests that the mobility and functional dependence of stroke survivors worsen over time and that accessing later rehabilitation becomes increasingly difficult for stroke survivors. This raises the big question: when should your ‘supported care pathway’ end? The ideal answer is ‘when I am better’.

The problem is that stroke survivors rarely simply ‘get better’ or ‘get back to normal’. Clinical rehabilitation therefore always has to be a compromise, due to time and resources allocated to professionals and patients. Just ask any hard-working physio or OT! And there are also some specific factors (Approach-specific factors, for example) involved in this compromise which will probably never be fully explained to your satisfaction, even if you were to ask.

51es4IOg20L. SX389 BO1204203200  235x300 - Does your therapy end too quickly? - Stroke Exercise TrainingStroke survivors simply tend to know when therapy seems to have ended too soon. They can feel very neglected. Let’s quickly examine Professor Glen Gillen’s handbook ‘Stroke Rehabilitation: A Function-Based Approach’ (a must-get’ read).

In it is an inspirational account from his colleague, the late Professor Barbara Neuhaus (Director of Columbia University’s Programs in Occupational Therapy) who had a stroke in later life and wrote an inspirational description of her resilience and fighting back against her new limitations.

When she got back home from the hospital, different therapists came to her house and assessed her. All three independently signed off that she was too advanced to receive home therapy and so she lost eligibility for further therapy because she was too ‘well’.

Yet instead of feeling elated that these three professionals had all independently agreed she was well, she just felt abandoned and let-down and certainly felt that her rehab was very far indeed from complete.

I’m not sure this squares with US clinical practice guidelines concerning management of adult stroke rehabilitation care:

‘Patients who have sustained an acute stroke should receive rehabilitation services if their post-stroke functional status is below their pre-stroke status, and if there is a potential for improvement. If pre-and post-stroke functional status is equivalent, or if the prognosis is judged to be poor, rehabilitation services may not be appropriate for the patient at the present time’.

Is it that this community therapy failed to recognise the requirement for further rehabilitation, was there no money or time to help her further or was what they felt they could do for her in itself limited at the time? I don’t know. Interesting to speculate though.

Back here in the the UK, we know that many people, after discharge from community physio are clearly not ‘well-enough’ not to need further assistance. They may still be stuck in wheelchairs and/or using sticks and orthotics without much of an idea of how to proceed (ie, self-manage, self-rehab, diminish the use of functional aids over time etc) when the care pathway (from the hospital and community teams) has finished.

But really, it has to be said that the NHS has 99 times out of 100 (or so!) done their very best for them, with usually outstanding pathway – from critical life-saving care all the way to other leading-edge follow-up services such as Prof Nick Ward’s Upper Limb Clinic, which I hope will be used as a blueprint for similar services in hospitals around the UK.

ARNI Wales Stroke Exercise Rehabilitation 300x168 - Does your therapy end too quickly? - Stroke Exercise Training

But here’s the thing. Community therapy obviously should phase into a much, much longer, joined-up and structured period of support. And I think all involved in stroke care would agree with me. But it can’t. The questions to be asked are then: who can help, and who will pay for it. Big questions.

A partial answer to the first may possibly be to activate a rung of professional therapists and exercise trainers to support the hospitals in the way that ARNI has done for years. The answer to the second is unclear and outside the remit of this blog!

Back to ‘what happens after therapy’. There is an interesting review of a workshop carried out by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) that I accessed way back in in 2009 that examines services for people who have had a stroke and their carers. The conclusions from the workshop echo the same stories we are told at ARNI every day. Some of the people involved were even our past patients and carers.

The report includes the comment which I get nearly every day on the phone from stroke survivors and carers as a way to precede asking for help. Quoting from the CQC document: “…often people have been given very negative prognoses. They write you off totally, giving you no hope.” It’s important to acknowledge that once YOU BELIEVE that someone who you view as representing the medical profession has told you this, there’s not much you can do to undo having been told it! It’s the way you respond to it that counts.

My view about this for many years is that often people won’t actually have been told ‘you’ll never move this limb again’, or similar, but it’s what they’ve come to understand as the sum result of the ‘it’s not ethical not give my patient false hope’ thing.

It’s actually the only way possible to proceed clinically, but the net result is people either simply giving up before they start, or go the opposite direction and going at their rehab with renewed vigour ‘to spite’ the consultant/physio or whoever they have labelled as the naysayer! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this with stroke survivors who train with me. Personally, I’m not sure it’s helpful to give little hope to people – I hear this less and less now, thank goodness.

Back to a few more of the issues raised in this 2009 workshop. The people involved discussed how the physiotherapy they had received had been very good and said the physiotherapists had really cared for them. One participant mentioned how the physiotherapists had helped him get out of the house which was really important to his recovery (turning point) and commented that he still keeps in touch with them. The group discussed, however, that therapists are under a lot of pressure and some commented that their physiotherapy service had been cut-off after a certain period of time.

One stroke survivor felt that whilst in his experience the physiotherapy was very good in hospital, the physiotherapists never explained the purpose of the exercises they were given and how they would help. Another participant highlighted the importance of physiotherapists explaining the reason and importance of carrying out exercises. Some people talked about finding further help merely ‘by chance’, and said that they needed help navigating ‘the system’.

Another stroke survivor described how when he had a stroke he was declared medically unfit for work, ‘thrown out’; and had nowhere to turn. He went to the Citizens Advice Bureau but they did not have the expertise. On the medical side, he was simply sent home with no support or back up. He was told he would make a full recovery and had his benefits taken away. He said it was not until two years after his stroke that he was referred to the Stroke Association for informational help. Another stated that independent services are bewildering and it is very difficult to see what you might be able to get to fulfil your needs and help you live. He expressed the view that the voluntary sector is often better than state care services in this regard.

A carer said that the intensive physiotherapy received in hospital was not followed up after discharge, and that they had to wait several weeks after going home for home-based physiotherapy to start. She added that physio (once a week for 6 weeks) was not adequate and that, although instruction sheets were given for practising between sessions, there was no ongoing support after that time. As a result she paid for private therapy. 

But then maybe services in general have improved across the board in the 10 years since this CQC Report.

So, what do you think? Does community therapy end too quickly? And what can community services do better to support physical rehab? Also, what does usual clinical care tend not to concentrate on enough for individuals before discharge?

nick ward stroke rehab upper limb 770x330 - Upper limb after stroke: can we predict recovery? - Stroke Exercise Training

Upper limb impairment affects most patients at the time of the stroke, with persisting problems for between a half and three quarters of survivors. This can be partly explained by where the injury is in the cortex. But because regaining lost function in the upper extremities has been found to be more difficult to achieve than return of normal function in the lower extremities, only 14% of these will regain any useful function. Between 55% and 75% continue to experience upper extremity functional limitations.

Professor Nick Ward (who has kindly taught my ARNI instructor groups at UCL for around 10 years now) runs the UK’s first and to date only dedicated (and outstanding) Upper Limb Service at Queen Square. He states that upper limb recovery after stroke is unacceptably poor – and gives some stats:

  • 60% of patients with non-functional arms 1 week post-stroke didn’t recover

(Wade et al, 1983) 

  • 18 months post-stroke 55% of patients had limited or no dextrous function

(Welmer et al, 2008)

  • 4 years post-stroke only 50% had fair to good function 

(Broeks et al, 1999)

If you’re a stroke survivor, you know already that regaining upper body function is a very different task to rehabilitating the lower body. Nevertheless, the two ‘halves’ of the body are not so different after stroke. New evidence says that both the upper and lower limb are as weak as each other after-stroke, which suggests that the poorer recovery of the arm, so frequently seen in stroke patients, may not be an inevitable consequence of the stroke.

An excellent research paper by Professor Sarah Tyson and colleagues in 2006 called ‘Distribution of weakness in the upper and lower limbs post-stroke’ advises that the effectiveness and intensity of rehabilitation interventions should be considered. This may well be so: the majority of stroke survivors whom I’ve met, when describing their prior physiotherapy and any other rehabilitative efforts, will report that the focus of consistent therapy was usually on the lower limb and walking practice. A minority remembered consistently focusing on practising upper limb exercises.

This happens for a number of reasons, but primarily because it is critical to get stroke survivors walking, and also essential to keep spirits up with the recognition of progress, which probably is facilitated better by the thought of being able to walk again. So hospitals often do not have time to devote to extensive hand-function efforts, and by the time further treatment is sought, the task is all the more harder.

The evidence states clearly that initial degree of motor impairment is the best predictor of motor recovery following a stroke. So, functional recovery goals are appropriate for those patients who are expected to achieve a greater amount of motor recovery in the arm and hand. But the evidence also shows that compensatory treatment goals should be pursued if there is an expected outcome of poor motor recovery. We are even uncertain whether task-specific repetitive training improves upper extremity motor function.

It is vital that stroke survivors are shown, in clinic, ways to either train for progressive functionality or physical self-management techniques or/and both. Rather than leaving people to try and work it out for themselves once they reach the community.

Those with more potential can be shown how to radically ramp up the dose of repetitions performed with upper limb during the day, perhaps incorporating modified constraint induced movement therapy (a beneficial treatment approach which can be done at home, for those stroke patients with some active wrist and hand movement). Professor Nick Ward told me that Professor Gert Kwakkel and colleagues noted way back in 2003 that those showing some synergistic movement in the upper limb within 4 weeks after stroke have 90% chance of improving. 

We interviewed Professor Nick Ward to find out more about his views about what both therapists and stroke survivors can potentially do to improve upper limb outcomes after stroke:

 

IMG 2096 560x330 - 35 questions stroke survivors ask - Stroke Exercise Training

You may well be interested in reading just some of the questions asked of me by stroke survivors. You may be asking yourself some of these same questions right now. Or may have conquered many of these issues already. These are a sample of meaningful issues drawn from just two places. First, from the sum of a trawl though hundreds of emails to ARNI from stroke survivors from 2007 to 2011. Second, from the sum of a trawl though notes taken next to baseline assessments (Stroke Impact Scale) face to face with stroke survivors. For more information, see the Successful Stroke Survivor manual, published in 2011.

  • Will I be able to walk properly again?
  • Will I be able to coordinate my body movement better?
  • Will I be able to converse properly again?
  • Will I be able to understand people?
  • Will I have to compensate or will I recover actual movement?
  • How weak will I be (muscle loss etc) after discharge?
  • How much rehabilitation will I need?
  • Does my type and severity and site of my stroke impact on my recovery potential?
  • Will my visual problems recede?
  • Will I be able to write properly again?
  • Will I stop feeling overwhelmed and fatigued?
  • Will I be able to drive? Catch a train? Go on holiday?
  • Will I be able to dress myself properly?
  • Will my spasticity (in upper limb/lower limb) recede?
  • Will it be hard to get back to running/being aerobically fit again?
  • Will I get back my full movement?
  • What is the timing, intensity, or duration of such activities I need to do?
  • Will my confidence return?
  • Will I enjoy life as much again with the things that stroke has left me with?
  • Will this affect how long I have to live?
  • How much do I need to rely on being motivated?
  • Will I have to drive this recovery myself?
  • At what point will my movement start to come back in my hand/foot?
  • Will I be able to wear high heels again?
  • Will I be able to do everyday manual tasks (using a knife and fork, opening jars)?
  • Will I be able to regain my strength, flexibility, balance & endurance?
  • Will depression due to loss of ability and abrupt change in life be a factor?
  • Is it true that there is a cut off point for functional recovery?
  • Will my sex life be affected?
  • How long will I need to rehabilitate for?
  • Will I be able to get back to my job/studying?
  • Will I be able to regain a high degree of independence?
  • Will I be able to become progressively more self-sufficient?
  • What current technology for stroke rehab is worth investing in?
  • Might I suffer a further stroke?                                                                            

20140303 145458 300x169 - 35 questions stroke survivors ask - Stroke Exercise TrainingNo consultant, therapist or expert in stroke research would attempt to answer the majority of these without preceding and qualifying the answer with an ‘if’. You are different from anyone else; from injury to the brain and plastic potential to occupational difficulties, demographic details to rate of recovery and lifestyles, making your presentation unique.

So although there are general principles of stroke recovery, and there are some common problems suffered by a majority of stroke survivors, no two stroke survivors ever shares exactly the same experience.

I will tackle all these issues in future posts – sign up now to receive the posts straight after posting.



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