What is it?

Baclofen is a medication that is often used as a muscle relaxer. For instance, it may be prescribed if you have back spasms or some other spasticity in your muscles. Its primary usage does not focus on stroke specifically. It is used mostly for other spastic conditions, but studies have shown that it can help stroke victims with spasticity and pain when used as an injection into the membrane around the spinal cord. More research is necessary to determine its overall usefulness to stroke victims. It is also known by the names Kemstro, Lioresal, Liofen, Gablofen, and Beklo.

How does it work?

Baclofen works by stimulating certain receptors on muscles known as GABA receptors. By activating these sites, it helps to relax spastic muscles and decrease the amount of pain. When the medication is used in the intrathecal route, or directly into the membrane surrounding the spinal cord, it has actions on the spinal cord that influence how muscles contract and how pain is related to the brain. Although it can produce withdrawal symptoms, it is generally not thought of as addictive, and it has a low propensity for tolerance.

What is it used for?

This medication is primarily used for spasticity disorders, especially when taken via the oral route. This includes such conditions as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injury. Lesser known is the usage of baclofen in treating the spasticity related to stroke victims and Parkinson’s disease, although these routes are usually not oral. It has also been used in treating withdrawal from alcohol abuse and some forms of autism.

Research and Evidence

In a study published in Stroke in 2001, the intrathecal route of administering baclofen to stroke victims was examined. It found that it safely and effectively reduced the amount of spastic hypertonia in stroke victims when administered in this fashion. The spasticity in the muscles of the leg showed marked improvement on evaluation scales used to determine the level of muscle contracture.

Another study published in Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair sought to discover the limitations of baclofen in a 2009 study. It found that it can reduce pain in stroke victims due to spasticity and uncover subclinical motor advantages in previously spastic limbs, but it does negatively impact the ability to ambulate independently in some patients. This is a serious limitation and calls into question baclofen’s use in this manner.

References

Stroke; Intrathecal Baclofen for Spastic Hypertonia From Stroke; Jay M. Meythaler, JD, MD, et. al.; 2001
http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/32/9/2099.short

Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair; Limitations of Intrathecal Baclofen for Spastic Hemiparesis Following Stroke; Markus Kofler, MD, et. al.; 2009
http://nnr.sagepub.com/content/23/1/26.short