Canadians are well informed about the dangers and risk factors of strokes but, given the growing number of stroke victims who survive through recovery, there is not nearly enough public education about the long-term effects of strokes and the treatments that can help.

"We believed Karl would never talk again.  Sometimes it’s hard to shut him up!"

Spasticity: What is it?

“One of the main downstream consequences of a stroke is spasticity,” explain Dr. Chris Boulias and Dr. Farooq Ismail of the Spasticity Management Clinic at West Park Healthcare Centre in Toronto. Spasticity is a muscle control disorder that is characterized by tight or stiff muscles and an inability to control those muscles.

Spasticity is caused by an imbalance of signals from the central nervous system and can result from not only strokes, but other neurological conditions including brain injuries, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis.

For people living with spasticity after a stroke, early intervention from an appropriate specialist is key to making a strong recovery. In Karl’s case, through the help of his physiatrist (a doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation), he has been able to recover far more function than anyone ever expected.

It has been a long road for Karl, with regular injections of botulinum toxin for his spasticity and twice weekly visits to the Aphasia Institute to help with his speech, but it’s a road that’s been made much easier by the unwavering support of his wife Jennifer, who took on most of the burden of care.

There is hope

“We believed Karl would never walk again,” says Jennifer. “He does; It’s not pretty.  He uses a tall walker and has a helper on either side. But he is walking. We believed Karl would never talk again.  Sometimes it’s hard to shut him up!” At 85 years of age, Karl is not only walking and talking, but writing and even swimming, an activity he never took part in before the stroke.  Just a few years ago, in Karl’s own words, he thought that “water was only good for mixing with scotch.”

Karl’s recovery can be attributed in large part to his indomitable spirit and refusal to give up hope. But without the support of Jennifer and the medical care provided by rehabilitation specialists like Drs. Boulias and Ismail, even a soul as strong as Karl’s could easily have become daunted.

It is essential that every stroke survivor, and everyone living with spasticity from any cause, knows that there are rehabilitation specialists and treatments that can help them recover and regain as much independence as possible.