Tuesday, 12 August 2014


When I was a child in grade school, about a half century ago, things were different. Name calling was a common part of every day experience. The names we called one another were often cruel and derogatory references covering a broad spectrum of human deficiency. One of the more popular was the use of "spastic". We didn't know what a "spastic" really was except that it was those kids in the wheelchairs riding in the "bunny bus", the term we used for the Easter Seal Bus for the handicapped. Forgive me; I just didn't know any better. Now I do.

I am now a spastic. I struggle with spasticity. Before going on in detail about how this nerve misfire affects me, let me say that, in general, it has to do with muscular failure. When we were kids, we used the term whenever someone dropped something or tripped, or if we just wanted to make them feel bad. We even shortened it to "spaz"; some even took it as a nickname.

These days I really do suffer from muscle failure. I trip. I drop things. My hands shake badly sometimes as the weakened muscles in my arms try to hold on for just a moment more. When I first get up in the mornings almost every part of me vibrates in a shaking, as if my nerves were collectively testing their connections prior to the effort of starting the day. At any point I can develop spasticity, from the slightest of twanging of muscles during my stretching exercise or the shaking of fingers as I type, all the way through to a violent shaking in my arms and hands.

Without all the medical terminology that goes with defining spasticity, it is essentially a stiffness or tightness with the muscles only on a "vibrating" basis; it is a muscle spasm, an excessive contraction in the muscle typically in a repeated manner with the muscles creating a responsive reaction in the tendons. In my case it is almost always related to the stretch reflex. If you stretch me, I will spasm. It's like twanging on a guitar string, only the guitar string is my muscles and tendons.

Although spasticity is muscle related, it is actually a function of the neurological damage from ALS, at least in my case. This same issue can occur with almost any neurological disorder including things like stroke, MS, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy and so on; anything that affects the part of the central nervous system that controls voluntary muscle movement. The damage causes a change in the balance of signals between the nervous system and the muscles which then causes a chain reaction kind of signalling issue, triggering the muscle reflexes to stretch and release rapidly.

All in all, it can be a bloody nuisance. My hand shake, my arms shake, even the dead muscles in my leg seem to participate although in reality it is the tendons more than the muscles. I vibrate unwillingly. I'm a "spaz". It happens mostly in the mornings, when I try to get going. During the day, it's there but not so bad. It's just another part of ALS.

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