MS 101: What is Spasticity?

  • by Teva's Lift MS Team
  •   September 12, 2016

According to the National MS Society, spasticity may be aggravated by sudden movements or position changes, extremes of temperature, humidity or infections, and can even be triggered by tight clothing. With the onset of cold weather, some of those living with multiple sclerosis may have a different view of this time of year because they notice that spasticity becomes worse. So, we’re here to help you understand what spasticity is and offer some tips for managing it.

What is spasticity?
Spasticity refers to feelings of stiffness and a wide range of involuntary muscle spasms. There is an abnormal increase in muscle tone, which reacts with a spring-like resistance to moving or being moved. The condition can be mild (feeling stiff, heavy and difficult to move), to severe (involuntary spasms or jerking movements). It can occur in any limb, but it is much more common in the legs.

About 85 percent of those living with MS report problems with spasticity. The presence and severity of spasticity varies widely across people living with MS, and even in the same person over time. As with many MS symptoms, it’s hard to know what to expect or predict.

What does spasticity do?
For some, spasticity may cause pain or tightness in and around joints, as well as the low back. Increased stiffness in muscles may adversely affect movement, strength, coordination, motor control, and disturb sleep. It can make the daily activities of living more difficult.

Spasticity Treatment
“Spasticity is a common MS symptom that presents differently for everyone and requires an individualized treatment plan,” says Shared Solutions® nurse Lauren R. Managing spasticity may take a team approach to prevent painful and disabling contractures in the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders and elbows. Because spasticity varies from person to person, the treatment and management plans require a team approach involving a neurologist, nurse, rehabilitation specialist, and/or a physical or occupational therapist, as well as the patient’s caregiver. The team can work together to identify goals to help improve physical function and comfort.

It’s important to identify the trigger of spasticity symptoms so the team can identify the best course of action. Spasticity treatment may involve physical therapy, adaptive equipment, and treatment of pain to improve symptoms.

If you or a loved one is dealing with spasticity, ask your health care provider if any of these tips are right for you:

Cool it. Applying an ice pack to the affected area may reduce mild spasticity. Alternatively, moist heat may help relax muscles.
Stretch it. Range-of-motion stretching exercises may help reduce muscle tightness and soreness.
Move it. Maintaining an active lifestyle can help preserve overall muscle flexibility.
Splash it. Swimming or water exercises can be helpful for joint stiffness.
Destress it. As stress can be a trigger, try to set aside time to relax. Try practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, and medication to alleviate stress.
Journal it. “Spasticity can be amplified by various factors. Using a journal to track your symptoms can help you and the doctor identify triggers and determine the best treatment plan,” suggests Lauren.
Discuss it.Talk to your doctor about spasticity management and exercise before starting a new program.

While we hope this information is helpful, we encourage you to seek counsel from your healthcare provider for any questions specific to your experience or that of a loved one. Please remember this blog is for general informational purposes only and does not replace conversations with your doctor. Please discuss any change in symptoms with your doctor.

COPAXONE® (glatiramer acetate injection) is indicated for the treatment of patients with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis.

COPAXONE® is not indicated for the treatment of symptoms of RMS.

Have you utilized any of these helpful tips before? Comment below to share which ones are your favorites.

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4 Comment(s)
  • Jo Snne Gamatoria | October 24, 2016
    Great info
    • Teva's Lift MS Team | October 25, 2016
      We are happy you are finding value in the blog, Jo Anne! Please continue to check back for more info.
  • Brenda Rosenburg | January 05, 2017
    Thanks for the info.
  • Sharon kidd | February 16, 2017
    I have had RRMS for 34 years. When I got my diagnosis I sstarte jogging I hardly had strength to walk a half block but in time...and taking it slowly,I started jogging 3 miles a day. I also started lifting free weights. I wasn't going to let MS get the best of me. I can't do that now but I know it helped me for many years.
    • Teva's Lift MS Team | February 17, 2017
      Finding an activity you enjoy can make all the difference, Sharon! Be sure to consult a healthcare professional before starting any exercise program.
  • Donna | June 27, 2017
    This information was very helpful. I have been suffering from spasticity and muscle spasms for a few eeeks.
    • Teva's Lift MS Team | June 28, 2017
      Donna, it’s great to hear you enjoy the community we’ve built here! We welcome your contributions to it.