Spasticity is the involuntary contraction, stiffening, or tightening of muscles.
The amount of tone or tension in a muscle is determined by signals from the brain that travel through the spinal cord. Injury to tissue in the brain or spinal cord can cause a disruption of these signals which leads to the abnormal contractions of the muscle.
Damage to specific areas of the brain or spinal cord increases the risk for spasticity. Conditions most often associated with this type of damage include:
Spasticity can range from a feeling of tightness in a muscle to severe muscle spasms or contractures. Depending on the severity of the spasticity and the location of the affected muscle other symptoms may include:
Over time, spasticity can cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done, paying particular attention to your ability to move. Spasticity can be identified through a physical exam. The cause may be apparent through a review of medical history, but further testing may be needed.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment goals include:
Treatment options include any or all of:
Physical and occupational therapies will work to decrease discomfort by decreasing the tension in the muscle. This may be done with gentle stretches, cold packs, or electrical stimulation.
The therapists will also work to improve the function of the muscle. This may include:
Medications may be recommended for spasticity that interferes with daily activities. Options include:
In recent years, some states have approved the use of medical marijuana for certain conditions. Some studies support the use of medical marijuana for spasticity. Talk to your doctor about whether this treatment option is right for you and if it is legally available where you live.
Surgery is effective for a limited number of people with spasticity. It may be recommended for severe spasticity that interferes with function or positioning.
The surgery involves cutting the nerve that sends sensory messages from the muscles to the spinal cord. It may help decrease the intensity of muscle stiffness and spasm.
American Association of Neurological Surgeons
Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation
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Spasticity. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Spasticity.aspx. Accessed May 11, 2016.
Spasticity. American Stroke Association. Available at: http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/LifeAfterStroke/RegainingIndependence/PhysicalChallenges/Spasticity_UCM_309770_Article.jsp#.VzOadU2FPIU. Updated March 5, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2016.
Spasticity. Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation website. Available at: https://www.christopherreeve.org/living-with-paralysis/health/secondary-conditions/spasticity. Accessed May 11, 2016.
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Last reviewed May 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.