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When your muscles contract, become stiff, or spasm involuntarily, it’s called spasticity. Spasticity can make it difficult to walk, move, or talk. 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:
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 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:
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, sedatives, and 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:
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 the movement of muscles. 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 it can lead to the inability to move your:
This can affect your ability to move, walk, and function in a normal capacity.
Treatment will be based on the frequency and level of your spasticity, and the underlying condition that is causing it. Contact your doctor if:
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:
Some of these drugs can cause uncomfortable side effects such as:
If you experience side effects, don’t stop taking medications on your own. Consult 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. Remain under a 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:
Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: Oct 21, 2016: Judith Marcin, MD
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