Exercises that Relieve Stiff Muscles In Spasticity After Stroke
Spasticity treatment exercises don’t just target your muscles — they help rewire your brain.
Since the root cause of spasticity lies in the brain and nervous system, rehabilitation starts there.
To help you overcome spasticity and get stiff muscles to relax, we’ll share the best exercises to help “get the brain on board.”
The Little Known Cause of Spasticity
Spasticity is characterized by stiff, tight muscles that result from interrupted signals from the central nervous system.
This condition is often a side effect of neurological injury like stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and multiple sclerosis.
The best way to understand spasticity is by looking at the problem in relation to the brain and nervous system:
Spasticity & The Nervous System
Normally your muscles are in constant communication with your brain (via motor neurons) about how much tension they’re feeling.
When a neurological injury damages this communication, the muscles no longer receive proper motor signals.
As a result, the affected muscles enter a state of contraction in order to protect themselves. This is what causes spasticity.
So, what can you do to fix it?
The first solution we’ll share is an effective short-term treatment for spasticity. After that, we’ll move onto a better long-term treatment.
Why Botox Is Only a Temporary Spasticity Treatment
One way to reduce spasticity after neurological injury is by using “nerve block” drugs like Botox.
Botox blocks the release of chemicals that signal your muscles to tighten, which makes your muscles relax.
This is a clinically tested treatment for spasticity. Most patients see significant relief from these injections.
However, without getting your brain on board, Botox merely addresses the symptom of spasticity, not the real problem.
This means that once the Botox wears away, the problem will come back.
So how can you reduce spasticity long-term?
This is where neuroplasticity and therapeutic spasticity treatment exercises come into play.
Why Exercise Is the Best Spasticity Treatment
The key to reversing spasticity permanently is by rewiring the brain and nervous system through Neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity helps dedicate more brain and nerve cells to controlling your affected limbs.
In order for this rewiring to occur, you have to repeat effective rehab exercises over and over and over.
The more you practice spasticity treatment exercises, the more your spasticity will subside.
It’s like paving new pathways in the brain.
The more you reinforce those new pathways, the more your brain-muscle communication improves, and your spasticity goes away as a result!
Types of Exercise to Treat Spasticity
Some spasticity is minor (muscle tension) while other spasticity is severe (paralysis).
Different Levels of spasticity require different types of exercise.
Below you will find 3 ways to treat spasticity with exercise. After, you’ll discover 3 more tips for spasticity treatment.
1. Range of Motion Exercise
When you first start to treat spasticity, it’s likely that your muscles will be very stiff. To help loosen them up, start with range of motion exercises like this wrist stretch:
2. Active Spasticity Treatment Exercises
If you have some movement in the spastic muscles, then active rehabilitation exercise will be your ticket to success.
A great spasticity exercise for legs is knee extensions:
Again, the more reps you do, the more your brain will rewire itself and reduce your spasticity.
You’ll recover quickly this way because you’re getting the brain on board – and that addresses the root problem.
3. Combining Exercise with Electrical Stimulation
Another great way to boost your results from your spasticity treatment exercises is by combining it with electrical stimulation.
This involves using an e-stim machine to apply electric current to your affected muscles. This helps “wake up” your brain through the stimulation.
Most neurological injuries (like stroke,TBII, and SCI) respond to electrical stimulation — and these results are amplified when e-stim is combined with therapeutic exercise.
How to Treat Spasticity in Paralyzed Muscles
Sometimes muscles become so stiff with spasticity that you develop contractures or they become paralyzed.
The following methods can help reduce spasticity in paralyzed muscles:
4. Passive Exercise
When you can’t move your muscles due to high tone, you can begin the rewiring process through passive exercise.
This simply means assisting your affected muscles through each movement – either with the help of a caregiver or by using your non-affected side.
Although you aren’t “doing it yourself,” passive movement still helps activate neuroplasticity. As you begin to regain movement, you can graduate to active exercises.
5. Mirror Therapy Exercises
Mirror therapy is a special form of therapy that involves “tricking” your brain into believing that you’re moving your affected hand by using a tabletop mirror.
Although you logically know better, this trick helps activate neuroplasticity and introduce movement into your affected, spastic hand!
Mirror therapy is mostly useful for upper extremities like hand and arm rehab.
6. Mental Practice
Lastly,mental practice is a great way to boost neuroplasticity by simply visualizing yourself moving your spastic muscles.
Imagine boosting your results while lying in bed! Don’t skip this step – it’s easy and clinically proven to help.
Spasticity as a Surprising Sign of Recovery
You are now aware that spasticity is caused by miscommunication between your brain and your muscles…
And this should bring you tons hope that your spasticity is treatable because it means that your muscles are still trying to communicate with your brain!
Your body hasn’t given up, and neither should you.
There are tons of success stories of neurological injury patients who regained more mobility than doctors predicted. Never give up hope.
Even if you have no movement in your spastic muscles, keep focusing on activating neuroplasticity with high repetition.
Eventually, your spasticity will start to improve – for good!
Thanks to all stroke survivors for their concern for sharing.