Spasticity and MS: How to Control Your Muscles

Many people with multiple sclerosis have stiff muscles and spasms, a condition called spasticity. It happens mostly in the muscles of the legs and arms, and it may keep you from moving your limbs freely.

You might feel spasticity either as stiffness that doesn’t go away or as movements you can’t control that come and go, especially at night. It can feel like a muscle tightening, or it can be very painful. Spasticity also can make you ache or feel tight in and around your joints and low back. How you feel can vary depending on your position, posture, and how relaxed you are.

What Causes Spasticity?

Spasticity happens because of an imbalance in the electrical signals coming from the brain and spinal cord, often when multiple sclerosis has damaged the nerves there. This unevenness makes your muscles contract on their own and makes them tense.

The condition can get worse when it’s too hot or cold, when you have an infection, or if you’re wearing tight clothing.

Treatment for MS Spasticity

Physical therapy, medications, surgery, or a mix of these treatments can ease spasticity when you have MS. To decide the best way to help you, your doctors will think about your overall health, how severe your symptoms are, and:

  • Does the condition keep you from doing everyday tasks?
  • Are you in pain?
  • Which treatments have you tried, and how well did they work?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Will the benefits outweigh the risks?

Physical and Occupational Therapy for Spasticity

Most of the time, a physical therapist will start treating MS spasticity with a basic physical therapy stretching program. The goal is to lengthen your muscles to ease the condition.

An occupational therapist may recommend different tools, like splints, casts, or braces, to keep up your range of motion and flexibility.

If physical and occupational therapy don’t help, your doctor may want you to try medications.

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Medications for Spasticity

The most common medications to treat the condition include the muscle relaxants baclofen (Gablofen, Kemstro, Lioresal) and tizanidine (Zanaflex).

Another option is diazepam (Valium), which can help you sleep if nighttime spasms keep you awake.

If pills don’t work, your doctor might be able to put a pump inside your body to deliver the medication directly to your spinal fluid (such as the baclofen pump). You can also get shots of botulinum toxin (such as Botox or Myobloc) to relax your muscles.

When Does Surgery Help?

When other treatments don't work, there are two types of surgery that can treat spasticity.

In one type, a surgeon cuts away part of the spinal nerve. The operation is called rhizotomy. The goal is to relieve pain or ease muscle tension.

Tendon release, also called a tenotomy, is the second type. A surgeon cuts severely tight tendons away from the muscles. It may make spasticity happen less often and make it less severe, depending on how old you are. Over time, you may need to have the surgery again.

These surgeries can help, but they’re usually only for extreme cases of spasticity and are rarely performed in patients with MS..

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Richard Senelick, MD on November 26, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Spasticity."

Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Muscle spasms and stiffness."

 

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