Botox Isn’t Just for Wrinkles

Botox can prove to be very helpful for patients suffering from a myriad of conditions.

Dr. Jennifer H Zahn, Texas Spine, Orthopedics and Rehabilitation

When you hear the word Botox® likely you immediately think of erasing a few wrinkles here and there. What many people don’t know is that botulinum toxin type A and botulinum toxin type B (commonly referred to as Botox®, Dysport® or Myobloc®) are not just for helping you look younger. Their administration has become very popular for treating individuals suffering from spasticity which is the tightening of muscles which can result from in stroke, brain injury, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, or cervical dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes abnormal muscle contractions in the head and neck area.

Botulinum toxin was originally developed for use by ophthalmologists treating disorders that cause involuntary, sustained contractions of the muscles around the eyes, or conditions where the eyes are not properly aligned with each other. Its use spread to the treatment of movement disorders such as cervical dystonia and most recently to patients with spastic hypertonia, a tightening of the muscles which commonly results from brain injury or trauma.

Cervical dystonia was observed in approximately 0.39% of the US population in 2007. Incidence of the condition is at least 1.2 per 100,000 people worldwide, and many researchers feel that it is under diagnosed. Cervical dystonia is difficult to diagnose as it is often sporadic and, in many cases, the exact cause is not known. Some studies suggest that cervical dystonia may result from cervical surgery, trauma or overuse of the neck, and there is some research supporting a genetic component.

Cervical dystonia is more common in women and the incidence increases with age. Symptoms of cervical dystonia can include abnormal positions and posturing, jerky head movements, turning, flexing or extending of the neck to the side, tightness in the neck muscles and neck pain. Symptoms worsen while walking or during periods of stress and improve with rest or sleep.

Tightening of the muscles is also a common manifestation post-stroke. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The American Heart Association estimates 600,000 strokes occur annually with 500,000 new cases and 100,000 recurrent cases. Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55. There are nearly four million stroke survivors in the US, many of whom have residual complaints such as tight muscles and weakness on one side of their body. Such effects can lead to difficulty walking, performing activities of daily living and increased caregiver burden.

Injection of botulinum toxin can prove to be very helpful for patients suffering from the conditions described above. Botulinum toxin is injected into various muscles affected by spasticity allowing the muscles to relax. Patients can receive these injections as often as every three months, and they are commonly followed by physical and occupational therapy to assist with stretching of the muscles, contributing to further relaxation. Side effects can occur and are dependent on the area in which the injections take place, so it is important to ask your physician about these before undergoing treatment. Most insurances cover botulinum toxin injections if used for appropriate diagnoses.