Your muscles can spasm at any time, but certain things may set them off or make the problem worse. Once you know what those triggers are, you can learn to avoid them or at least manage them. This will relieve some of your symptoms and help prevent your muscles from getting shorter or tighter.

Here’s how to manage some of the most common triggers:

Change positions often. If you spend extended periods in the same position, you put a lot of pressure on the same patch of skin for too long. This can cause pressure sores and poor blood flow. These in turn can spark spasticity. But when you do change positions, do so slowly. An abrupt stretch can trigger your symptoms, too.

Avoid skin irritation. Anything that rubs your skin too much can kick on the muscle spasms. Choose clothes that aren’t too tight or itchy and remove irritating tags. Wear comfortable shoes that fit. Keep toenails trimmed, so they don’t rub against other toes.

If you wear a splint or use a catheter, these can also rub against your skin and set off your muscles, too. Ask your doctor for tips on how to cushion these aids so they don’t irritate your skin.

Watch out for infections. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common triggers of spasticity. If you notice yourself needing to pee more often than usual, or if peeing is painful or has a strong smell, take note. You might just feel like you always need to pee but then nothing comes out. If you have these symptoms, your doctor can take a urine sample to check for bacteria. You may need antibiotics to treat it. Untreated, this infection can provoke spasms.

It’s possible to have an infection without these symptoms, so if your spasticity is worse and you can’t figure out the cause, your doctor may check your urine to be sure.

Other infections can turn up spasms, too. Make sure to get care right away for:

  • Respiratory infections
  • Gum infections
  • Tooth infections
  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Stomach bugs

Your spasms may also ramp up after a flu shot. In this case, it shouldn’t last long. If your spasms don’t resolve soon after your flu shot though, see your doctor.

Be careful. Bone fractures or other injuries to muscles, tendons, or bones make spasticity worse. Often these happen after a fall. Use the aids you need, such as a cane or walker, to get around safely and avoid injury.

Control your temperature. Extreme cold and extreme heat are both common spasticity triggers. Your body temperature may change because of the weather, exercise, your clothing, or a fever. When possible, wear layers so you can peel some off when you get hot. Avoid the outdoors during extreme temperatures. 

Keep your bowels moving. Constipation can set off spasms, too. If you’re not pooping regularly, or your stools are small, hard, and difficult to push out, you may need a doctor’s help to get things moving again. Constipation can also cause hemorrhoids, and those trigger spasms, too. The sooner you can get your bowels moving regularly again, the better.

Sometimes your intestines can fill up and become impacted. When this happens, you may have diarrhea along with constipation symptoms. See your doctor to get it checked out.

Manage fatigue and stress. Being overtired or emotionally taxed are both paths to spasticity. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about ways to get better rest. A counselor can help you manage feelings of anxiety and depression that can lead to mental stress.

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MS Trust: “Spasticity triggers.”

Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center: “Spasticity and Spinal Cord Injury.”

MS Society: “Understanding spasms and stiffness.”