Spasticity: How it Feels and What I Do to Manage It
Pain don’t hurt. –Dalton, ROAD HOUSE (1989)
Okay, I’m game. If pain don’t hurt, what do?
Wait, I know, I know! Spasticity!
And when I use the word spasticity I mean both muscle stiffness and muscle spasms.
Getting sutured without anesthetic is a cinch. Who doesn’t know that? But if Dalton had MS he’d drop like a stone.
Can you relate?
I know because that’s what it does. Spasms are particularly fun. Tell me if you can totally relate to this one. I step onto the track of my sliding glass door on my way to the patio. It comes on suddenly with no warning. Both legs straighten and stiffen so that I go up on my toes like I’m dancing the lead in Swan Lake—except I have no balance and can’t change position. I start to fall and grab onto the screen door to keep from pitching forward onto the concrete patio. It works—but now I’ve bent the flimsy frame. It was a brand new screen door. It hasn’t closed properly since.
I manage to stay upright until the spasm subsides and I can stand flat-footed again. I feel relieved that I didn’t fall— like last time.
Pulling me up on my toes
Two years earlier, I’d gotten up from my office chair and a spasm hit, pulling me up on my toes. I make a quarter turn and crash into a bookcase, knocking a book off the shelf. I grab at the bookcase to slow my fall. Fortunately it doesn’t come crashing down on me. I lay in a stiff heap for a minute until what feels like a steel rod running up my hamstrings softens into cooked spaghetti. The book I knocked on the floor rests upright where I can see the title. The Jokes of Sigmund Freud, by Elliott Oring. I remember reading the beginning a couple of weeks before. I was disappointed that he didn’t really tell jokes. Not like Henny Youngman. He was fond of analogies for his patients' cases, often referencing Jewish folktales. I preferred vaudevillians and tossed the book aside. I see Freud grinning through a swirl of cigar smoke. Now the joke’s on me.
In all these years, never a broken bone. Not even a bruise. I must be impervious to osteoporosis and have very few blood vessels in my extremities. Or I’m just lucky.
Managing daily stiffness
I don’t often have spasms, but I do suffer from stiffness every day and must adjust my medication accordingly. I take baclofen and it works pretty well. Now I’m up to 100 mg daily, taking 30 mg in the morning, 20 mg in the afternoon, and 50 mg before bedtime. If I’m more active than usual I’ll take an extra 20 mg. Sometimes I can anticipate that need and take the 20 mg as a prophylactic. It goes a long way in preventing painful cramping.
Extra activity can bring on sudden very painful muscle cramps. For me it’s usually concentrated in the hamstrings (the back of the thighs) and will travel down to the feet and toes. Pointing my toes can bring on a cramp, too. So doing the opposite action can help relieve my leg cramps. It usually hits my left leg and usually in bed, though it can happen while sitting in a recliner for too long. For immediate relief I bend my knee and keep my foot at a 90-degree angle (flat-footed). Self-massage helps, too.
What does and doesn't work for me
Notice that stretching and yoga are absent from my methods. That’s because it isn’t effective for me. Holding a stretch doesn’t release my muscles. I try very gentle brief stretches and they don’t do a thing. I’ve tried holding a gentle stretch for 15 minutes. Nada. However, massage and heat go a long way in providing me relief. We’re all different. Yoga works for a lot of people and might work well for you.
If you suffer from spasticity I hope you’ve found methods for relieving and preventing it. If you’re searching for relief, do talk to your neurologist. Other medications are available, too, as well as physical therapy. I didn’t mention bladder spasticity, which I have, too. That’s for another article. So stay tuned.
How do you feel before getting an MRI done?