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Spasticity and Massage

by Steve McCoy
(Cleveland, Ohio)

Question: What types or areas of massage can help to relieve tension and increase flexibility and strength in left arm/hand of 63 year old female stroke victim?


Answer: Massage might be temporarily helpful in relaxing a spastic muscle or improving range of motion, but since spasticity in stroke patients originates from a problem with the brain, it will not cure it. If a patient can afford to get massage on a regular basis, it may be of benefit, but there are not enough studies for me to tell you what type of massage would be best. It also depends on the patient. Some patients have sensory problems. For instance if a stroke patient lacks feeling in their affected limb, they would not be able to determine the amount of force being applied. Others are hypersensitive to touch and may not like to be touched or massaged at all. I would suggest starting with lighter forms of massage and determine the effects. If tolerated and the patient prefers deeper tissue work, then one could try it but always be aware of any sensation deficits where the patient cannot gauge how much pressure is being applied. I would also make sure you have medical clearance before getting massages. In addition, if the patient has pain or range of motion deficits, make sure the massage therapist handles the limb appropriately. For example you should never force an arm overhead that is tight, painful, or subluxed. The shoulder blade has to rotate properly for the arm to be raised above 90 degrees of shoulder flexion, so make sure your massage therapist understands this.

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