At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Spasticity is a disorder of the central nervous system which is characterized by overactive muscles. In a patient with spasticity, certain muscles continually contract, and they tighten up far more than they would normally. The condition can cause problems with speech, walking, and fine motor tasks, and it is associated with serious complications like the dislocation of limbs. For patients, spasticity can be frustrating, painful, and sometimes humiliating.
This condition is usually associated with another medical disorder such as multiple sclerosis, brain trauma, or cerebral palsy. A wide variety of muscle groups can be involved. In all cases, spasticity involves a confusion in the neurons which transmit information from the brain to the muscles; instead of firing normally, these neurons switch into hyperdrive, telling the muscles to tense up and keep tensing. During a spastic episode, the patient may be unable to relax, bend, or stretch, and he or she may be in significant pain.
On a daily basis, spasticity is managed with massage and a series of stretches which are designed to promote relaxation of the involved muscles. Yoga and other movement disciplines which promote flexibility may also be used in an attempt to keep the muscles as relaxed as possible. Medications may also be offered to help manage the spasticity, with drugs such as muscle relaxers being used to keep the patient's muscles from tightening up too much.
In some cases, surgical techniques may be utilized to cope with spasticity. Neurosurgery can target the specific areas of the brain involved, although this surgery is accompanied with some definite risks which should be considered. Patients with severe spasticity may be offered surgeries in which the connection between the brain and the muscles involved is terminated. Other forms of therapy may also be available, depending on what underlying condition is causing the spasticity.
A number of things appear to increase spasticity. Stimuli in particular seem to increase the severity and frequency of muscle contractions, and these stimuli can vary from skin infections which upset the balance of the body to emotionally difficult conversations. Exercise, exhaustion, and stress can all contribute to spasticity and muscle contractions, and sometimes stress about the possibility of spasticity can bring on a spastic attack. For example, a patient might be afraid of taking a walk with a friend for fear that a spastic episode will occur, and the stress over the walk may cause the patient's muscles to start contracting.