Spasticity – Types, symptoms, and treatments

Spasticity is a condition that affects around 10 million people across the globe. It is a condition in which some muscles of the body are continuously contracted. Spasticity causes tightness or stiffness of the muscles which can interfere with the speech, gait, and even regular movement of a patient. Spasticity usually occurs due to damage to a portion of the spinal cord and brain. It negatively affects muscle movements which can adversely affect a child’s growth. A recent survey revealed that at least 400,000 out of 500,000 citizens from the country suffered from spasticity due to cerebral spasticity.

There are three main types of spasticity:

  • Spasticity in multiple sclerosis
    A common symptom of multiple sclerosis, spasticity, in this case, can be of two types — flexor or extensor. Flexor spasticity involves bending of the hips and knees towards the chest, whereas extensor spasticity is the involuntary straightening of legs. Spasticity in multiple sclerosis may worsen due to muscle tightness, infections, extreme temperatures, and even humidity.
  • Spasticity in traumatic brain injury
    This type of damage affects the reflex centers of the brain, thus interrupting the flow of messages along different nerve pathways. The location of the traumatic brain injury determines the area of the body affected and the occurrence of motor deficits. Spasticity due to traumatic brain injury is more difficult to treat as compared to spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders.
  • Spasticity in cerebral palsy
    Brain injury due to cerebral palsy might occur due to low birth weight, multiple births, and bacterial or viral infections in the brain. If the damage is in the area of the brain which controls muscle tone and movements of arms and legs, then it can result in spasticity. The limitations of stretching the muscle along with spasticity can cause deformity.

Spasticity can be as mild as tingling muscles or as severe as painful and uncomfortable spasms. Spasticity can also create tightness and pain in the joints and also lead to lower back pain. Adverse or chronic effects of spasticity include muscle stiffness, spasms, joint deformities, and muscle fatigue. Additional complications include urinary tract infections, pressure sores, and chronic constipation.

Several types of treatment are available, and one must evaluate them based on the symptoms, underlying conditions, the age of the patient, and the severity of the spasticity. Following are some options to treat spasticity:

  • Occupational and physical therapy
    This treatment is designed to reduce muscle tone, and improve the range of motion and mobility. Physical therapy helps in increasing strength, coordination, and improves quality of life. Occupational therapy includes temporary braces or casts, strengthening exercises, application of cold packs, electrical stimulation, and biofeedback.
  • Oral medications
    Patients can use these if the symptoms interfere with their sleep or daily routine. Under medication management, patients could require a combination of oral medications to treat multiple symptoms. It is advisable to consult a doctor before taking any medicines to manage their side effects and get an effective prescription.
  • Botulinum injection
    Also known as BTA, it is used in small quantities and can be useful in paralyzing spastic muscles. Doctors carefully administer BTA injections based on the pattern of spasticity. Botulinum blocks spasticity-causing acetylcholine secreted in the body. The effect of these injections lasts for about 12-16 weeks.