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Health Team

The Fonz promotes Botox treatment for upper limb spasticity

Posted May 22, 2012 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2012 6:15 p.m. EDT

— Henry Winkler, known for his television role as Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, made it a happy day for many people in the Triangle Tuesday who suffer from upper limb spasticity.

The condition is common in people who have suffered from a stroke or have problems with their brain or spinal cord associated with cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis. A lesion on the brain or spinal cord can cause muscles in the arm to contract, become tight and stiffen.

"You've seen it a million times – when the arm is frozen in place (and the) fingers are frozen into the palm," Winkler explained.

Dr. Patrick O'Brien, director of rehabilitation at WakeMed, said the condition is painful.

"The bent elbow, clenched fist, flexed wrist – those muscles are stiff. The muscles are tight. They hurt," he said.

Winkler visited WakeMed Rehab Hospital in Raleigh as a representative for the Open Arms Campaign, which raises awareness about upper limb spasticity. His mother suffered from the condition after a stroke in 1986.

"She was always on the move. She had a stroke and it was as if time stood still," he said. "You watched the will to enjoy life drip out of her."

Doctors at WakeMed have had success using Botox injections to bring relief to patients while they undergo physical therapy that can restore some function to the arm and hand. Other medications relax the muscles, but often cause drowsiness. Using Botox only affects the targeted muscles.

"(The injections) are effective is paralyzing those stiff muscles so that the therapy can be more effective," said stroke patient Chris Johnson. 

The Open Arms Campaign has been promoting the treatment, and Winkler said he believes it could have provided relief for his mother, who died in 1998.

"I think it would have changed my mother's whole complexion of living," he said. "It's just this wonderful tool that doctors have in their tool box."