Spasticity is a condition in which certain muscles are continuously contracted. This contraction causes stiffness or tightness of the muscles and may interfere with gait, movement and speech. Spasticity is usually caused by damage to the portion of the brain or spinal cord that controls voluntary movement. It may occur in association with spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, anoxic brain damage, brain trauma, severe head injury and some metabolic diseases such as adrenoleukodystrophy and phenylketonuria. Symptoms may include hypertonicity (increased muscle tone), clonus (a series of rapid muscle contractions), exaggerated deep tendon reflexes, muscle spasms, scissoring (involuntary crossing of the legs) and fixed joints. The degree of spasticity varies from mild muscle stiffness to severe, painful and uncontrollable muscle spasms. The condition can interfere with rehabilitation in patients with certain disorders and often interferes with daily activities.
The prognosis for those with spasticity depends on the severity of the spasticity and the associated disorder(s).
Treatment may include such medications as baclofen, diazepam or clonazepam; muscle stretching, range of motion exercises and other physical therapy regimens to help prevent joint contractures (shrinkage or shortening of a muscle) and reduce the severity of symptoms; or surgery for tendon release or to sever the nerve-muscle pathway.
(Reviewed by Dr Andrew Rose-Innes, Department of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine)
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