Treating Contracture- Loosening up after a Stroke: December 15, 2012

Navigating life was an extreme challenge for Sue Burke. In 2009 she suffered a crippling stroke.

“I couldn’t walk flat on my foot.  My heel couldn’t get down. So I was walking on the side of my foot and twisting my ankle all the time,” says Burke.

As many as half of stroke patients feel Burke’s pain. They also experience muscle spasticity or tightening, called a contracture.

“It’s more common than you think.  This is something that anytime you have a stroke and you have unusual losses of certain muscle groups you can get contractures,” says Dr. Jason Nemitz, foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Contractures can be felt in the arms, wrist or legs. In Burke’s case, her Achilles tendon became her weak spot.

“My therapists were almost giving up on me because I couldn’t put my foot flat.  And it was very painful,” says Burke.

“She’d had some Botox injections to try to release the tendon, and basically make everything relax, but that didn’t really go very well for her.  They had been trying to brace her or do anything they could to get her foot in a better position. That’s when I met her,” says Dr. Nemitz.

When it seems like all else fails, doctors may have another option. A surgery, that nicks the tight tendon and helps it loosen up.

“The procedure is known as a percutaneous Achilles lengthening where you make three small incisions and make tiny little notches in the Achilles tendon that then allows the tendon to flex up to its normal position,” says Dr. Nemitz.

So instead of being stuck at a 30-40 degree angle, Burke’s ankle is pointed in the right direction.

“I can walk without a shoe on and without the brace on.  They’re getting me back so I can walk barefoot,” says burke.

Her contracture now a memory, Burke’s taking life one step at a time.