Spasticity is a condition that affects your muscles, making them tight or stiff. This can impact your ability to perform daily activities, such as walking, eating, and talking.
The condition may also cause painful muscle spasms and fatigue. Over time, spasticity may impact your overall quality of life.
Spasticity may be the result of a variety of conditions, including:
- spinal cord injury
- brain injury
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- cerebral palsy
While treating the underlying cause of spasticity remains critical, it’s also just as important to seek other forms of support if you’re living with this condition. Here are the people who can provide support and help you manage spasticity.
Primary care physicians are general practitioners who can help you manage many aspects of your overall health. They may be a doctor or a nurse practitioner.
You’ll likely visit your primary care physician regularly for routine checkups and preventive care. They’re often the first healthcare professional you see if you experience any changes in your health.
Your primary care doctor can play an
As part of your overall rehabilitation plan,
While your primary doctor will stay play a vital role in your preventive healthcare, you may need to see a neurologist to help treat spasticity. This type of medical doctor specializes in injuries and diseases of both the spinal cord and brain, such as MS, cerebral palsy, and stroke.
Your neurologist can guide treatment of the underlying cause of spasticity. They may also prescribe medication to treat spasticity itself.
Oral medications used to treat spasticity include:
- dantrolene sodium
Botulinum toxin is another treatment option. It is injected directly into the muscle that needs to relax.
If medication and physical therapy don’t relieve your spasticity symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery. Options include:
- surgery for tendon release
- surgery to sever the nerve-muscle pathway
- surgery to implant a pump that delivers muscle-relaxing medication directly into your spinal fluid
Depending on the type of surgery you need, you may need to add a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon to your care team.
If your doctor hasn’t yet referred you to a physical therapist to help you manage spasticity, you may consider asking them for this important type of therapy.
A physical therapist will guide you through stretching and strengthening exercises to work through muscle stiffness and help improve balance and muscle conditioning.
They may also give you and your caregiver “homework” that consists of exercises you can do on your own in between your appointments. Collectively, in-person and home physical therapy (PT) exercises may also help prevent frozen joints and skin sores due to spasticity.
The goal of PT is to help you regain the mobility you need to accomplish everyday physical movements, such as standing tall, sitting, and walking.
In addition to PT, you might also be referred to an occupational therapist. This is especially the case if your spasticity is making it difficult to perform essential self-care movements, such as eating, dressing, bathing, and brushing your teeth.
For spasticity, you can consider occupational therapy (OT) as a complement to PT. While PT helps you manage your physical strength and balance, OT focuses on exercises that help you improve the fine motor skills you need to perform daily tasks and regain independence.
An occupational therapist can also evaluate your home. They may recommend modifications or assistive devices to help make it safer and easier to perform certain tasks. This may include such things as shower grab bars or adaptive utensils that are more comfortable to hold.
Spasticity can also affect speech and swallowing capabilities in some people. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) may be able to help.
An SLP can evaluate your speech and help you improve speech techniques so you can regain confidence when talking with others. If spasticity interferes with your ability to swallow water and food, an SLP can help guide you through exercises that target the important muscles needed for swallowing.
Even with the ongoing support of your healthcare team, it can take time to learn the skills needed to help manage spasticity.
Family and friends can provide support. In one survey of people living with spasticity, 64 percent of respondents said they were cared for by a family member.
You may also consider an in-home nurse or other professional caregiver to help you with everyday tasks and to keep you safe.
It’s important to have supportive family and friends, but it’s also helpful to reach out to others who might live with spasticity. A support group is one way you can connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
These non-profits may also offer online support groups. You can also search for spasticity-related groups on Facebook. Depending on your underlying condition, examples may include:
Spasticity is caused by a variety of neurological disorders that affect the brain and spine.
While the nerve damage of spasticity may be treated with medications and surgeries, it’s important to seek ongoing support from other sources to improve your overall quality of life. Some therapies, such as PT, may even help decrease the risk of complications.
Consider the above sources to help get you or your loved one with spasticity the support needed to manage the condition. If your spasticity symptoms worsen despite treatment, it’s important to speak with your doctor.