Spasticity is a muscular condition characterized by involuntary movements and stiffness. Affected individuals will experience resistance when attempting movements due to muscles being involuntarily contracted. This condition may make small movements, such as buttoning a shirt, very difficult. Spasticity is caused by injury to the brain, spinal cord, or nerves as a result of trauma, stroke, or neuromuscular disorders. This injury results in abnormal signaling between the brain and muscles, causing the abnormal contraction of muscles. Many stroke survivors and over 80% of individuals with multiple sclerosis are affected by spasticity.
Common signs of spasticity include abnormal posture, a clenched fist, and flexed elbows, hands, or fingers. Individuals affected by spasticity may experience symptoms ranging from minor stiffness and inflexibility to involuntary and painful spasms. Other symptoms include difficulty speaking, jerky motions, pain with movement, and very strong reflexes. When an individual has severe spasticity for a long time, their muscle may decrease in size. This may lead to reduced range of motion or the inability to move a joint from a fixed position.
Diagnosis and treatment of spasticity are important to minimize symptoms in affected individuals. Proper treatment can reduce limitations, prevent further injury, and improve quality of life. Treatment for spasticity depends on the severity of the symptoms and overall health of the affected individual. Braces are often used to keep a muscle in a desired position. Physical therapy and exercises often help to strengthen muscles, maintain full range of motion, and reduce risk of permanent muscle damage. Medications taken as pills, injections, and/or implanted devices may be used to help relax muscles. If you or your child has been diagnosed with spasticity, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options.