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Spasticity

What Is It?

Spasticity is one of the complex symptoms that can commonly occur in MS patients. It can include a wide range of involuntary muscle spasms or stiffness caused through sudden muscle contractions. In normal muscle movements, the same motion causes some muscles to contract and others to relax. Spasticity can cause whole muscle groups to contract at the same time causing spasms or stiffness, or in some cases cause all the muscles to relax at the same time causing flaccid, limp muscles. Pain and/or fatigue can be associated with spasticity. The muscles can tense for long bouts, thus straining and exhausting the person.

Why Does It Happen?

While spasticity remains one of the common symptoms of MS, we are not completely sure why it occurs in MS patients. Most doctors believe that the nerves that control the muscles are excessively firing. This might be coupled with an over-sensitivity in the muscle groups. Spasticity can cause an arm or leg to draw up, increased muscle tightness, scissoring (when the legs cross when attempting to stand or walk), increased reflexes like the knee jerk, and clonus (a series of muscle contractions that can cause effects like a bouncing foot.) The severity of spasticity can vary greatly. For one person, spasticity could cause stiffness in the leg; for another, the spasms may make it impossible to walk.

What Can We Do For Spasticity?

This can be a difficult question to answer. No two MS patients are the same. Different treatments work for different individuals. However, there are some guidelines that can help in treating this debilitating symptom. The two mainstream areas are exercise and medications. A physical therapist may be helpful in teaching specific exercises to increase flexibility and relieve spasticity. Many find aquatherapy helpful when performing these various exercise programs. Cold packs and ice are sometimes used to soften muscles and temporarily relax the spastic muscles. Medications can also be helpful. There are a few anti-spasticity pharmacueticals on the market today including Zanaflex (tizanidine), Baclofen (Lioresol), Botulinum Toxin, Dantrium (dantrolene sodium), etc. Sometimes muscle relaxants, like Valium (diazepam), Librium (chlordiazepoxide), and Klonopin (clonazepam), have provided assistance. These pharmaceuticals are known as benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs.
There are also alternative strategies that many MS patients have found therapeutic for managing spasticity. Massage therapy can help to relax muscles and at times provide neuromuscular re-education. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology have assisted some MS patients with spasticity by opening up the meridians that may be blocked causing this symptom. Qigong, Tai Chi, and Yoga are lighter forms of exercise that can enhance stretching and blood flow into the spastic areas. Other alternative techniques may include Reflexology, Bee Sting Therapy, Biofeedback, and Kinesiology. v