Stroke Training and Awareness Resources (STARs)

Effects of arm weakness

Altered muscle tone: High tone in the arm usually results in a ‘flexor’ pattern where the arm is bent up towards the chest with a clenched fist.

Spasticity is a particular form of abnormally high muscle tone which can result in tightness and stiffness in the arm. In severe cases this may limit the movement available in the arm.

Contractures are a result of altered muscle tone and weakness in the arm. The joints become stiff and movement becomes restricted. It can be very painful for the person when their limbs are moved.

Pain: The arm is particularly susceptible to pain as it is often weak after a stroke and may be hurt during the delivery of care. Altered muscle tone and contractures can also result in arm pain.

Subluxation: This is a partial dislocation of a joint and occurs as a result of muscle weakness and abnormal muscle tone. It is most commonly seen in the shoulder joint after stroke. Poor moving and handling skills and lack of support for the arm can result in a person having a very painful shoulder.

Swelling/oedema: The weak hand and arm can become swollen and stiff. This is most commonly caused when the arm hangs down by a person’s side rather than being properly supported.

Page last reviewed: 20 Jan 2020