Spasticity is a condition in which muscles involuntarily remain in a continuous state of contraction for long periods. As muscles contract they becomes rigid and tight, resistant to the normal stretching that occurs during use.
The degree of spasticity can vary from mild muscle stiffness to severe, uncontrollable spasms that permanently shorten muscles. Spasticity may be very painful, particularly if it causes the joints to pull into abnormal positions and/or normal movement of the joints is prevented. Interference of normal movement can cause significant disability in a patient, hindering simple daily activities or even speech.
Spasticity may not be present at all times and may be triggered or aggravated by stimulus such as pain, temperature, humidity, or certain disease processes.
Although it most commonly affects the legs and arms, spasticity can affect any part of the body including the trunk, neck, eyelids, face, or vocal cords.
What are the causes?
Spasticity occurs as a result of damage to nerve cells in the portion of the spinal cord or brain that controls voluntary movement. The damage causes an imbalance in nerve signals that leads to increased activity or excitability of the muscles.
Spasticity can occur as part of the disease process such as in multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease); or it may be associated with spinal cord injury, severe head injury or damage due to lack of oxygen to the brain.
What are my treatment options?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for spasticity. It can, however, be managed with appropriate treatment. Treatment options may include:
- Physical therapy – to alleviate or prevent further muscle spasticity, or atrophy. Traditional physical therapy is offered through Somersworth Physical Therapy and a more holistic approach is offered through Total Body Therapy.
- Botox and simple local anesthetic injections – to block overactive nerve impulses and in turn inhibit excessive muscle contractions
- Oral medication such as Baclofen – to treat the general effects of spasticity
- Complementary treatments such as nutritional therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy and hypnosis
- Implant technology such as pumps/catheters for intraspinal Baclofen and spinal cord/dorsal column stimulation for severe refractory cases
The goal of treatment is to ease discomfort, decrease pain, facilitate mobility and/or rehabilitation, and to prevent or decrease the risk of further joint contracture. The treatment of choice will be dependent upon the severity of spasticity and the patient’s overall health.
In some cases, no treatment is recommended if the spasticity is actually helping the patient’s current mobility. For instance, if a patient with multiple sclerosis experiences significant weakness in their legs, they may find that spasticity makes their legs more rigid, helping them to stand, walk, or more easily transfer to a chair or bed.