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Spasticity or muscular hypertonicity is a disorder of the central nervous system (CNS) in which certain muscles continually receive a message to tighten and contract. The nerves leading to those muscles, unable to regulate themselves (which would provide for normal muscle tone), permanently and continually "over-fire" these commands to tighten and contract. This causes stiffness or tightness of the muscles and interferes with gait and movement, and sometimes speech.

Spasticity is most common in spastic diplegia and other forms of spastic cerebral palsy, where it is a result of damage to the brain's basal ganglia that is permanent and neither improves nor worsens over time. But spasticity also presents extensively in multiple sclerosis and to different degrees in most other neuromuscular diseases and conditions as well, both progressive and not.


Symptoms are hypertonia (increased muscle tone), clonus (a series of involuntary rapid muscle contractions), exaggerated deep tendon reflexes, muscle spasms, scissor gait, and over time, shortened tendons and fixed joints (contractures). The degree and even the location of the spasticity varies from person to person and can go from mild muscle stiffness with minimal impact on function, to severe and painful joint and muscle breakdown and painful muscle spasms.

The condition often interferes with daily activities. Over the years, the effects of the spasticity worsen because of the pressure being put on muscles and joints. Cold weather and fatigue can trigger an even greater increase in rigidity and tightness. The constant spasticity also leads to muscle fatigue.

Also, multi-tasking, such as walking while talking, or doing several physical activities simultaneously, can also trigger an increase in spasticity, especially if one or several of those activities makes the person nervous.

Possible benefits

In patients with spastic cerebral palsy, a wider margin of neurosurgeons are now reaching a consensus that there is, in fact, and directly contrary to past convention no positive overall benefit to spasticity in an individual at any stage of life.

This is due to observation of extensive and continually worsening joint, muscle and bone stress resulting from spasticity over decades of early life (20s, 30s, etc.), and the fact that such extreme pressure from the spasticity is not at all what the human body is meant to accommodate, thus automatically predisposing the spastic-muscled individual to a very early-onset of arthritis, joint deformities, hip pain, and other problems. Moreover, if such spasticity can be neurosurgically eliminated, such as through a selective dorsal rhizotomy, it should be done as early in the life cycle as possible, preferably the pediatric period, to save the person from needing to deal with a lifetime of spastic movement.

However, in patients with multiple sclerosis or other neuromuscular conditions with a different basis than cerebral palsy (that is, conditions where the spasticity/weakness dynamic changes when the condition changes, which does not happen in CP), possible benefits of spasticity may indeed exist.

Common arguments for benefits of spasticity to the function of a given person are that spasticity:

  • May help some patients to walk, stand or transfer (e.g., stand pivot transfers)
  • May assist in maintaining muscle bulk, i.e., in exercising the muscles, inherently preventing atrophy
  • May assist in preventing DVTs (Deep vein thrombosis)
  • May assist in preventing pressure ulcer formation over bony prominences
  • Can be used as “diagnostic tool” (with increased spasticity being a sign of exposure to a noxious stimuli—infection, bowel impaction, urinary retention, etc) [14838]


Massage and stretching provide only temporary relief from spasticity, but for everyday management, some form of stretching must always be implemented by the spastic person. Stretching and strengthening exercises are also needed to prevent contractures.

Treatment may also include such medications as baclofen, diazepam, dantrolene, or clonazepam; surgery for tendon releases; or phenol to dampen the spastic signals between nerve and muscle or botox directly into the muscle. In spastic CP, selective dorsal rhizotomy may also be considered.

Some jurisdictions have also issued medical marijuana to help treat spasticity; however, it is not clinically verifiable whether the person with spasticity actually experiences a decrease in muscle tone as a result of consuming the marijuana, or whether the cause is simply the overall more relaxed mental-emotional state prompted by marijuana consumption.


The prognosis for those with spasticity depends on the severity of the spasticity and the associated disorder(s). To a small degree spasticity performs the helpful role of exercise, but it is usually bothersome to normal activities in life.

See also


  • Definition Of Spasticity from,'Motor Control,Theory and Practical Applications,2nd edition,pg no.132-133 Author:Anne Shumway Cook and Marjorie H.Woollacott.

  • "Other Complications of Spinal Cord Injury: Spasticity." (Louis Calder Memorial Library of the University of Miamimarker/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, October 3, 2002),

  • This article contains text from the public domain document at

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