Conditions That Cause Spasticity

General Neurology located in Albuquerque, NM

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Conditions That Cause Spasticity

Spasticity affects different people in different ways, ranging from mild muscle stiffness to severe, uncontrollable muscle spasms. Exercise, including muscle stretching, can help to alleviate symptoms. Physical therapy can also be beneficial.

Any condition or disorder that causes damage to the brain and spinal cord can cause spasticity. Adults and children with spasticity experience stiffening and tightening of the muscles, and other symptoms.

Board-certified neurologist Timothy Ownbey, DO, and the team at Neurology Specialists of Albuquerque, diagnose and treat a full range of neurological conditions. Spasticity is typically caused by damage to the nerves in the spinal cord and brain. After determining the cause of your spasticity, Dr. Ownbey determines the most appropriate treatment. 

What is spasticity?

Spasticity is a disruption in muscle movement that causes specific muscles to contract at once when you move or even when you are at rest. Muscles remain contracted and resist stretching. It obstructs movement and can have an impact on walking.

Spasticity can affect people in various ways: It can be as mild as a feeling of tightness in your muscles or as severe as uncontrollable stiffness and spasms in your extremities. It can cause:

  • Pain
  • Discomfort
  • Sleep disruption
  • Involuntary muscle spasms
  • Muscle, bone, and joint deformities
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks 

Normally, muscle movements are controlled by a complex system that allows some of your muscles to contract while others relax. This pattern can be disrupted if nerves in your brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) are damaged. As a result, several muscles may contract at the same time, making voluntary movement difficult.

Causes of spasticity

Voluntary movement is the result of a series of communications between the muscles and the brain, with signals traveling through the nerves and spinal cord. Congenital conditions or other factors that affect a specific area of the brain, spinal cord, or nerves can interfere with the flow of signals to and from the muscles.

Cerebral palsy spasticity

In cerebral palsy damage to the part of the brain that controls muscle tone and movement causes spasticity. Children with cerebral palsy may not exhibit spasticity symptoms as infants, but the problem may become more apparent as the child grows older.

Multiple sclerosis spasticity

Spasticity of the leg and hip muscles in people with MS can result in flexor spasticity or extensor spasticity.

Spasticity caused by a brain injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury, or stroke may cause muscle tightness in various parts of the body, which in some cases may improve as the brain injury heals.

Spasticity caused by a TBI, spinal cord injury, or stroke can be difficult to treat because the location of the injury can affect the brain's communication signals with various muscles. Reflex messages from the muscles may not reach the brain, or the brain may send too many disorganized signals to the muscle, preventing it from responding normally.

Treatment for spasticity

Spasticity must be treated in order to improve comfort, mobility, and independence. Spasticity can cause pain, permanent joint deformity, urinary tract infections, chronic constipation, and pressure sores if not treated.

Treatment goals include relaxing muscles as much as possible, relieving pain and stiffness, encouraging optimal long muscle growth in children, and improving ambulation and independence in your child.

A combination of the following interventions is used to treat spasticity:

Occupational and physical therapy can improve muscle flexibility, range of motion, coordination, and strength. Spasticity treatment may include temporary casts or braces, therapeutic heat and cold, electrical stimulation, and biofeedback. Therapy can improve independence and quality of life.

Medications can be taken alone or in combination. The team will design a regimen that balances symptom improvement with side-effect minimization.

Intrathecal medications are continuously released into the cerebrospinal fluid via a pump surgically implanted in the abdomen. Baclofen is one medication that can be taken in this manner.

Surgical treatment for spasticity may be recommended for some patients. Rhizotomy is a surgical procedure in which a neurosurgeon accesses the cablelike sensory nerves that run along the spine and carefully isolates the nerves that send contraction messages to the affected muscles. To relieve spasticity while preserving other motor and sensory functions, the surgeon cuts the most abnormal of those fibers.

Treatment depends on a number of factors, including the degree of impairment. To learn about available treatment options contact our Albuquerque office or book online to schedule a visit with Dr. Ownbey today.