Spasticity, What Is It? 

elder man in pain

What is it?

Spasticity occurs when a muscle involuntarily contracts when you move. It sometimes happens in your limbs after a stroke. It can be painful (like a charley horse), and it can create stiffness. When a muscle can't complete its full range of motion, the surrounding tendons and soft tissue can become tight. This makes stretching the muscle much more difficult. If left untreated, the muscle can freeze permanently into an often-painful position.

Spasticity in the arm can cause a tight fist, bent elbow and arm pressed against the chest. This can seriously interfere with the ability to perform daily activities.

Spasticity in the leg may cause a stiff knee, pointed foot and curling toes.

How is it treated?

Health care providers consider the severity of spasticity, a person’s overall health and other factors when considering treatment, which may include:

  • Physical exercise and stretching: Stretching helps maintain full range of motion and prevents permanent muscle shortening.
  • Braces: can hold a muscle in a normal position to keep it from contracting.
  • Intrathecal baclofen therapy (ITB): delivers medication where it's most effective and minimizes side effects that often accompany oral medications. A small pump is surgically implanted to supply baclofen to the spinal cord.
  • Oral medications: Several oral medications can help relax the nerves so that they don't send a continuous message to the muscles to contract. Side effects may occur, such as weakness, drowsiness or nausea.
  • Injections: Some medications can be injected to block nerves and help relieve spasticity in a particular muscle group. This treatment weakens or paralyzes the overactive muscle. Side effects are minimized, but there may be soreness where injected. Which treatment is best for me?

Talk to your doctor about the most effective treatments for you. Every person responds differently to the various treatments.

Life after stroke - our path forward

There is life – and hope – after stroke. With time, new routines will become second nature.