Reducing Post-Stroke Spasticity Naturally
As always, a disclaimer….I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV! So don’t take this as solid gold medical advice. Also, second disclaimer: this is not an essential oils post trying to get you to buy something so I can make money. I do not sell essential oils. I will not provide any links for monetary gain to prove it! I’m genuinely sharing something that has worked for us, hoping others can find relief too!
Spasticity. Such an evil word I never realized existed three years ago. Spasticity is, basically, super tight muscles caused by a lack of communication between the muscle and the brain. In Annie’s case, her stroke damaged the part of her brain that ‘talks’ to the lower muscles in her right leg. As a result, the muscles, receiving unclear instructions from above, contract almost constantly. After all, no one’s telling them to do anything different! Spasticity has varying degrees and can affect all sorts of different muscles. It all depends where and how much of the brain is injured.
What spasticity does have in common between all patients is it can be uncomfortable and can limit movement. Try cinching your calf muscle as tightly as you can and then walk with a normal gait. Not possible. Try flexing all the muscles in your arm and then use your hand. Can’t do it! For children like Annie, spasticity causes even more problems than just limited abilities. Kids grow, a lot. And if your muscles are tight, your tendons don’t get stretched. Your bones grow, but not everything grows with it and muscles and tendons get so tight and short to the point that children can only toe walk, are in a lot of pain, and need really invasive tendon and muscle lengthening surgery.
Obviously, we would like to help Annie avoid surgery. And if we can’t avoid it all together, we really really want to make it so she only needs one surgery, after puberty. Botox injections are used a lot for children like Annie. Basically, the toxin in Botox (yes the same botox to make California socialites non-wrinkly) paralyzes the spastic muscles. It kills the nerve endings, causing the muscle to relax (but also leave it unable to contract). Eventually the nerve endings re-grow, so you need more injections. Injections don’t work for all kids. They are very painful. Really expensive. And, obviously, it’s a toxin. Which comes with risks! For some kids, it works wonders. So it’s a really a toss up. I’m not against trying Botox in the future, but I’d like to at least hold off until she is old enough to understand the “why” and it would be less terrifying for her.
So, for the past two years we have been down a rabbit hole of trying this and that to help Annie defeat spasticity more naturally. I’m not a “natural medicine or bust” person. I know there’s a time and place for Pharma intervention. But the longer we can push it off, the bigger she is, and the less likely she is to have nasty side effects.
So here’s what’s worked for us!
Specifically, Gonstead Chiropractic care. Really, really, really specifically, Koelling Chiropractic, which has offices in Fulton and Jefferson City, MO. Miracle workers. And so patient! Annie is not always the model patient, if we’re being honest here. There’s a lot of crying. It doesn’t hurt, but the general experience sometimes can be a little overwhelming for a 2 almost 3 year old. Sometimes she does fine. Sometimes not so much.
Annie has been seeing a chiropractor since she was an infant. We go every month, and it has made a huge difference in her spasticity. How do I know? There have been two times we have “skipped” an appointment. Once when we had a pregnancy scare with JJ (all turned out ok) and once after JJ was born and we just weren’t getting out of the house. Those two times, Annie went two months without an adjustment. By weeks 6 and 7, she was so tight she couldn’t flex her foot flat, had an increased limp, difficulty walking, and it was almost impossible to stretch her ankle to 90 degrees. As soon as we went back, he symptoms greatly decreased and her mobility returned.
MASSAGE AND STRETCH
I’ve tried a lot of essential oils. Most of them were “meh”. Didn’t really make a difference that I saw. Smelled good, but that was about it! However, my sister in law kept bugging me to try AromaTouch by DoTerra. I was a little resistant, it’s a little on the expensive side and I really hadn’t seen any difference with other oils we had tried. I’m glad she convinced me to try it! It makes a noticeable difference. I massage Annie’s leg every night with a couple of drops of AromaTouch diluted in coconut oil. My older kids complain a bit that Annie smells “like a Christmas tree”. But, hey, deal with it ladies!
The AromaTouch makes an almost immediate difference. The muscle feels relaxed and I can stretch her foot past 90 degrees. I rub Annie down, and give her a good stretch. For stretching, I focus on two positions. First, I bend her knee to 90 degrees and gently push her foot “up” to make 90 degrees. With spasticity, you’ll feel a “catch”. It’s ok to push past the catch, but obviously don’t force the joint further than it wants to go! The second stretch is done with the leg straight and pull the foot up. I am mindful to watch and make she the knee is not hyperextending when the ankle is being stretched. For both of these stretches, I’ll stretch the foot back down to a point and then back up to 90 degrees three or four times.
The negative is that AromaTouch’s effects are pretty short lived. Maybe an hour. Which is why the last step is very important….
NIGHT STRETCHING BRACE
Once Annie’s leg is stretched and limber, I put her in a night stretching brace. This isn’t her favorite contraption. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s like sleeping with a peg leg. I imagine it’s all sorts of annoying getting tangled in the sheets. And in the summer making your feet all hot and sweaty.
The positive is that it keeps her ankle at 90 degrees (or a tiny but past) all night while she sleeps. The AromaTouch relaxes her muscles. As it wears off, her calf muscles are actively stretched against the spasticity. This has made a huge difference. Three days after adding the night stretching brace to our routine, Annie went from having a heel that couldn’t hit the floor when she walked, to a flat footed strike!
The brace isn’t cheap. And it needs an RX from a doctor. But it has made a very positive difference for Annie. I’m glad we gave it a try over Botox at this point.
Annie’s spasticity will probably never go away. Her brain is still young and still flexible. We do notice spurts of “growth” and new connections from time to time. I’m not sure that the muscle issues will ever be entirely gone. But I’m so glad we have found a way to manage her muscle tightness at home without a lot of medical intervention. There may be a time for that in a future, but for now, anything that keeps her out of frequent hospital visits and able to lead a normal life as a little girl is the best option!