What is Spacticity? Spasticity is the feeling of tight muscles, usually in the legs but it can affect any
part of the body. It is considered an increase in muscle tone (muscle tightness) and there are two types of spasticity that are common among Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
. Flexor; involves the hamstrings in the upper legs and the hip flexors (muscles at the top of the upper thigh). Extensor; involves the quadriceps and adductors (muscle on the front and inside of upper leg).
Spasticity can cause painful spasms, lower back pain and joint pain. It can also affect your gate (the form of how you walk) because if your legs are stiff and rigid then you probably will not be able to take a simple step the way you are supposed to be able to. When muscles are spastic, everything obviously can feel rigid or mechanical and some people may not be able to even bend their limbs at all! Imagine waking up and feeling like you could only move as much as a wooden sketch mannequin; that is kind of what spasticity feels like to me. Most people with MS who complain about spasticity (in their legs) say it feels like they are “walking on stilts” and I would have to agree.
Spasticity affects upwards of 80% of MS patients in some way shape or form. It is a very common symptom in MS but affects everyone differently in regards to severity. (National Multiple Sclerosis Society)
How to Treat Spasticity:
Baclofen (Oral) – Baclofen is probably the most common treatment, a sort of muscle relaxer that targets nerves in the spinal cord. This medication can make you pretty drowsy though and is taken 3 times a day so I would say (when first taking this) to try to pay attention to your fatigue levels because it might just be this little pill.
Baclofen Pump – A pump that is surgically implanted under the skin and releases a set dose of Baclofen into the spinal cord via a tube. This is obviously for more extreme cases of spasticity.
Tizanadine (Zanaflex) – another prescription option, Zanaflex is a skeletal muscle relaxer which slows down action in the brain and nervous system. This works great for spasms but can cause really bad dry mouth!
Diazepam (Valium) – This drug has a strong sedation effect; most people use it primarily to sleep which is why it’s typically prescribed to help when spasticity is interfering with your ability to fall or stay sleep. Valium is also used for anxiety and to help prevent seizures. This medication can be addictive/habit forming.
Dantrolene (Dantrium) – This is another muscle relaxer that is usually only used when other drugs have not worked.
Botox – Also for extreme cases of spasticity, Botox injections can help relieve spasticity for around 3 months; Botox is typically administered in a medical facility.
Other – Exercise and stretching, massage, acupuncture, supplements (such as Magnesium) or Cannabis are all said to help. (I have found that exercise/stretching works best)
My Experience With Spasticity
Spasticity was never an issue for me until my major relapse at the beginning of 2012 that affected my spinal cord but now I live with a bit of it every day. When it first hit, my right leg was fully extended and so tight that I could not even bend it, in fact, I remember a nurse leaning into my extended leg as I sat in a chair in the hospital and still not being able to bend it at all. I had never been in that kind of pain in my life, it made sciatica feel like a walk in the park. I remember them giving me a shot of Dilaudid and feeling almost no relief. I was asking for Norco as soon as it was available because my lower back was so tight from my leg being extended to the max. After a while (and some rehab) I was finally able to bend my leg on my own and after much stretching and exercise at home, it is not so much of a problem anymore. When I get stressed however, I immediately feel my legs start to tighten up and cramp causing me to feel like if I don’t start stretching and massaging them right away that they might (but not really) lock up rendering me unable to walk. This is one of the many reasons I try to just avoid confrontation and other stressful events.