When your muscles contract, become stiff, or spasm involuntarily, it’s called spasticity. Spasticity can make it difficult to:
It can be uncomfortable and painful at times.
Spasticity occurs when the nerve impulses that control muscle movement are interrupted or damaged. A variety of conditions can cause this, including:
- spinal cord injury
- brain injury
- diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS)
However, spasticity can have some benefit for people with very weak legs. The rigidity from spasticity can help them to stand or walk. For these people, the goal of treatment should be to relieve pain while maintaining the rigidity needed to function.
Prolonged spasticity can lead to:
- frozen joints
- pressure sores
- an inability to function normally
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have spasticity with an unknown cause.
Stretching exercises can help relieve spasticity. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy or massage. Prescription medications for the condition include:
- muscle relaxants
- nerve blockers
Surgery is used in some cases.
Episodes of spasticity can range from very mild to debilitating and painful. Signs and symptoms of spasticity include:
- muscle tightness
- joint stiffness
- involuntary jerky movements
- exaggeration of reflexes
- unusual posture
- abnormal positioning of fingers, wrists, arms, or shoulders
- muscle spasms
- involuntary crossing of the legs, which is called "scissoring" because the legs cross like the tip of a pair of scissors
- difficulty controlling the muscles used to speak
- muscle contraction that limits your range of motion or prevents your joints from extending all the way
- pain in the affected muscles and joints
- back pain
- difficulty moving
Spasticity can be triggered when you change position or move suddenly. Other spasm triggers include:
Your ability to perform normal tasks can be affected if spasms become too frequent.
The main cause of spasticity is damage to the nerve pathways that control muscle movement. This can be a symptom of a variety of conditions and diseases, including:
If spasticity is not properly managed, it can result in frozen joints and pressure sores on your skin. Prolonged episodes of spasticity can lead to the inability to move your:
This can affect your ability to:
- function in a normal capacity
Treatment will be based on the frequency and level of your spasticity, and the underlying condition that’s causing it. Contact your doctor if:
- you’re experiencing spasticity for the first time and do not know the cause
- your spasticity is getting more severe or is happening more frequently
- your spasticity has changed considerably
- you have a frozen joint
- you have pressure sores or red skin
- your level of discomfort or pain is increasing
- you’re finding it difficult to perform everyday tasks
Your doctor may suggest physical therapy or exercises you can do at home. In some cases, a cast or splint may be used to prevent your muscles from becoming too tight.
Many medications are used to treat spasticity, including:
- botulinum toxin: injected directly into spastic muscles
- baclofen: muscle relaxant
- diazepam: sedative
- phenol: nerve blocker
- tizanidine: calms spasms and relaxes tight muscles
Some of these drugs can cause uncomfortable side effects such as:
If you experience side effects, don’t stop taking medications on your own. Talk with your doctor.
Surgery may be recommended for tendon release or to sever the nerve-muscle pathway when medications and physical therapy don’t improve symptoms. You’ll remain under your doctor’s care and receive regular monitoring for spasticity.
Your doctor or physical therapist will likely recommend a variety of home-care treatments to help ease some of the symptoms of spasticity. These include:
- Stretching exercises for spasticity and overall health; you may need someone to help with your exercises.
- Avoiding extremely hot or cold temperatures.
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing and avoid restrictive garments or braces.
- Getting plenty of sleep.
- Changing your position often, at least every two hours. This helps to avoid developing pressure sores if you use a wheelchair or stay in bed for long periods.
Muscle spasticity is a condition that causes muscles in your limbs and throughout your body to stiffen.
They can become so rigid that it’s nearly impossible to move them. That can make walking, talking, and even sitting difficult. You may not be able to move from one position to another without significant help.
However, sometimes muscle spasticity can be helpful. It can help people with some muscle movement disorders have the strength to stand or walk.
In either case, it’s important you talk with your healthcare provider about the symptoms and complications of muscle spasticity. Even if it’s a welcome condition, you’ll need to take steps to avoid complications like frozen joints and skin sores.