What is Spasticity? Tight Muscles and Stiff Limbs

Spasticity is an involuntary (and constant) contraction of muscles and in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) this usually occurs in the legs. Though many people with MS can say they suffer from spasticity the severity can range from a minor feeling of tightness to painful spasms to an inability to move the legs well enough to walk properly. Many people commonly describe spasticity in the legs as a feeling of being stiff or rigid causing them to feel like they are trying to walk on wooden stilts. When occurring in the legs spasticity can also lead to lower back pain but though spasticity usually occurs in the legs it also occurs in the arms.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, if all degrees (levels of severity) of spasticity are taken into consideration then it is estimated that spasticity affects about 80% of people with MS making spasticity a very common MS symptom.

Many different treatment options exist for spasticity ranging from simple oral prescriptions such as Baclofen, Zanaflex, Gabapentin, Valium or Dantrium, to injections (Botox), to having a device surgically implanted under the skin such as a Baclofen pump which administers a set amount of the medication directly into the spine. The problem with a lot of the oral medications is that they can cause drowsiness which is counterproductive to many of those dealing with fatigue. Many people find that simple daily stretches can greatly help reduce spasticity so seeing a physical therapist to learn the best stretches for spasticity in particular is a great idea. Some people have also said that certain strains of cannabis (medical marijuana) help relieve their spasticity but I have yet to find any form of cannabis that helps my spasticity. When spasticity is left untreated it can lead to contractures (frozen joints) so finding what works for you is really important. I personally did not seem to benefit much from any of the oral medications like Baclofen so stretching is what I have found to be most helpful but that is just me, we are all different. My spasticity is nowhere near severe enough for heavier treatments like Botox so something like that would probably just turn my legs into noodles rendering me unable to walk.

It’s important to realize that because many people deal with muscle weakness in the legs a certain degree of spasticity can actually be beneficial as it can help keep you upright.

Now as I said before, spasticity can affect any limb and people who experience spasticity in their arms often have trouble performing simple tasks such as getting dressed; in cases like this I strongly recommend seeing an occupational therapist who can teach you new ways to perform a task so that that task is not only possible again but it will be much easier so that you do not fatigue yourself trying to perform the task.

An occupational therapist can also teach you how to function throughout the day without doing things that can trigger spasticity (or worsen it) such as making quick movements or positioning your body in certain ways. When I am trying to perform a task that I can no longer do with ease I may become really frustrated and that feeling of frustration (stress) greatly triggers my spasticity. An occupational therapist can show you how to perform a task in a way that is less frustrating which helps you avoid stress which is essentially poison to most people with MS. I found occupational therapy to be very helpful.

Spasticity is caused by a lesion in the spinal cord which is why people with many different spinal cord injuries also experience spasticity. People with spasticity may also suffer from clonus (rapidly repeating muscle spasms) or hyperreflexia (over exaggerated/sensitive reflexes) which I will talk about in a future article.

Matt Allen G

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2010 at the age of 20. It's been a battle ever since and I have always shared my story and struggles online!

7 thoughts on “What is Spasticity? Tight Muscles and Stiff Limbs

  • October 21, 2016 at 4:42 am
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    Hi Matt,

    While I don’t have MS, I sure do have spasticity (and other random symptoms), I know when Googling the novel’s worth of random and miscellaneous symptoms I am/ was having it brought me to your blog. Anyways I hope you are doing well.. Hang in there.

    P. S. Magnesium supplements help me a lot, along with Zanaflex.

    Elizabeth

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    • October 21, 2016 at 4:47 pm
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      Hi! Yes, I tried the magnesium and I have also been on Zanaflex; neither helped. I think the Zanaflex just made me tired? So many people say they BOTH help a lot, so I am glad you are one of them!

      Reply
  • November 3, 2016 at 11:56 pm
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    I had botox treatment for that….what piss me off took half month to get but the other thing I’m angry is the cost!…..seriously who can pay for it if they don’t have the insurance or trust account or whatever. Like many treatments I feel oh u have this well guess what u pay for alot….in which some ppl are discouraged to get treatments they need

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    • November 4, 2016 at 6:06 pm
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      My neurologist uses Botox for his MS patients all the time but in my case he said it would be too strong for my level of fatigue and give me noodle legs haha

      Reply
  • November 3, 2016 at 11:59 pm
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    One thing I tried and it works is taking aleave pill (arthritis pill I think) only thing makes me drowsy in which I missed a poker tournament and waste a weekend in a hotel and the other a good acupuncture. ….need find a good one in area

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    • November 4, 2016 at 6:04 pm
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      I hated acupuncture haha but it does seem to help some people with many things. Aleve is an over the counter pain killer like Ibuprofen, so maybe it’s called something else? If it IS Aleve and it helps you then even better!

      Reply
  • December 6, 2016 at 12:32 pm
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    I have clonus too but not often. I have terrible spascity in my hamstrings, knee and shins on the right leg. It is so 😖 painful. I’m in tears at least one time a day. I try to stretch and work out daily. This does help a little but it’s been getting worse. At least your blog gives info and I truly appreciate it. There is a topical cannabis treatment called dragon balm which temporarily takes the edge off the severe pain though it doesn’t help with the spasticity

    Reply

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