Self-Management to Reduce Spasticity

    Please refer to the Spasticity education on StrokeOT.com to learn about the causes and symptoms of spasticity and how doctor's medically treat it. This section will teach you techniques that you can perform on your own.


1. Prolonged Stretch

  • Research has shown that a spastic muscle needs to be held in a prolonged stretch for at least 20 minutes to reverse spasticity. This isn't always feasible for everyone. Click on the links and explore the videos below to learn prolonged stretch techniques you can do yourself:
  • Cane stretch video (see above)
  • Air splint on elbow or hand for prolonged stretch
  • Stretching exercises  

2. Weight bearing

  • Weight bearing onto your affected hand or elbow reduces spasticity of the tight muscles of the arm while also promoting a muscle contraction of the weak muscles of the arm.

  • Weight bearing videos (see above)

3. Positioning

  • Supporting, positioning, and aligning the body is useful to minimize or prevent pain and stiffness that are commonly present due to spasticity.

  • An arm rest or lap tray and lumbar roll helps align the body in sitting. Proper bed positioning does also. Visit Managing Shoulder Pain to learn how to position your arm in bed.

    4. Warmth

    • Warming the arm for 10-20 minutes is a sufficient period to produce a temporary effect of reducing spasticity. The application may be by wrapping the arm with towels, hot packs, and tepid baths.

    5. Deep tendon pressure

  • Applying deep pressure to the long tendons of the elbow (bicep tendon) and shoulder (pectoral tendon) can reduce spasticity.
  • Deep tendon pressure video (see above) 

 6. Rocking and Rolling

  • Slow rocking movements can help to reduce spasticity
  • Rocking video (see above)

    7. Orthotics (splints)

  • Orthotics (splints) lengthen muscles and tendons that have been shortened due to spasticity. Current research shows that static progressive splints are more effective on reducing spasticity than static splints. Speak with your orthotic provider about wearing times. 

References:

Bakheit, A.M.O., Maynard, V. and Shaw, S. (2005), The effects of isotonic and isokinetic muscle stretch on the excitability of the spinal alpha motor neurones in patients with muscle spasticity. European Journal of Neurology, 12: 719-724. https://doi-org.libraryproxy.quinnipiac.edu/10.1111/j.1468-1331.2005.01068.x

Lindsey Kerr, Vanessa D. Jewell, Lou Jensen; Stretching and Splinting Interventions for Poststroke Spasticity, Hand Function, and Functional Tasks: A Systematic Review. Am J Occup Ther 2020;74(5):7405205050. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2020.029454

Page last updated: 02/2021