Spasticity, What it Is, Cause, Symptoms, and Treatments

Spasticity is a muscle control disorder that displays as stiff muscles and an inability to control them. In addition, reflexes may persist in a rigid mode for too long. For example, an infant with a hyperactive grasp reflex may keep their hand in a tight fist for a long time.

Muscle tightness can interfere with normal movement, speech and gait. Damage to the portion of the brain or spinal cord that controls voluntary movement is usually the cause.


The statistics are alarming. For example,

  • This disease affects more than an estimated 12 million people worldwide.
  • About 80 percent of people with cerebral palsy (CP) and 80 percent with multiple sclerosis (MS) suffer from varying degrees of this disease.





Spasticity: Causes

Spasticity is caused by an imbalance of signals from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles. It is often found in people with stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injury.


Spasticity: Symptoms

Symptoms can include:

  • Overactive reflexes
  • Involuntary movements, which may include spasms (brisk and/or sustained involuntary muscle contraction) and a series of fast involuntary contractions)
  • Pain
  • Decreased functional abilities and delayed motor development
  • Poor hygiene
  • Abnormal posture
  • Permanent contraction of the muscle and tendon due to severe persistent stiffness and spasms
  • Bone and joint deformities

The pain level can be as mild as a feeling of tight muscles, or it can be severe enough to produce painful spasms of the extremities. This pain is usually in the legs and back and causes tightness in and around the joints.

Spasticity: Treatments

One mode of treatment is the use of occupational therapy (OT).  The OT uses a a variety of exercises which improve range of motion and mobility.  Strength and coordination can increase and pain reduced. In addition, therapy can also include stretching, electrical stimulation, and biofeedback.


Spasticity: Drug Treatments

If symptoms interfere with daily functioning or with sleep, several drugs can be prescribed.

Medications may include Baclofen, Gabapentin, and dantrolene sodium.

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