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MS Spasticity – what you need to know

Gain back control over MS muscle spasms and spasticity with management strategies and lifestyle changes – you can make a difference.

What is Spasticity in MS

Spasticity is a common symptom of MS, it causes muscles to feel stiff, heavy and harder to move. It is a result of damage along the nerves of the brain and spinal cord that control movement.

What does MS Spasticity feel like

MS spasticity can range from a mild feeling of tightness in muscles to painful and uncontrolled spasms and contractures where you can’t move the muscle. It most commonly affects the lower limbs, but can also involve the arms, trunk and back. 

There is no doubt that MS spasticity can have a big impact on your daily life, but there are effective management strategies that you can follow and lifestyle changes that you can make so that you can maintain mobility and feel better in yourself too. 

Find out how changing your lifestyle could change your MS symptoms [2 minute read]

What is the difference between spasticity and spasms?

Spasticity makes your muscles feel stiff, heavy and difficult to move, whereas a spasm is a sudden involuntary tightening or contraction of the muscle which makes the limb move and jerk. These MS symptoms can affect walking and cause falls.

What causes spasticity and spasms?

Muscle tone is the level of tension to movement in a muscle which allows you to move your limbs or hold a position. For example, when you bend your arm, you are relaxing the triceps muscle at the back and therefore reducing the tone, and then you are tightening the biceps muscle at the front which increases the tone. 

Spasticity and spasms are caused by an increase in muscle tone. This happens because the normal nerve signals between the brain and muscles are interrupted by MS. This causes the muscle to remain short and tight which makes it stiff and difficult to move.  A contracture is a limb which is fixed in one position. 

Treatment options for MS spasticity

Action you can take:

MS spasticity can be managed through various treatment options which will leave you feeling stronger, more confident and better coordinated. These treatments will also help with other MS symptoms, such as reducing your fatigue so that movement requires less effort.

Stretching and movement

It is vital to keep your joints, muscles and ligaments flexible and this can be done in a number of ways, including:

  1. Passive movement (your physiotherapist or supporter will move your limbs).

  2. Active movement (where you move your own limbs).

  3. Stretching  – passive stretching where a therapist will stretch and hold your limbs or active stretching such as taking up yoga or doing stretches every day at home.

  4. Maintaining a good posture through exercise, therapy and aids.

  5. Using relaxation techniques such as massage, deep breathing and tensing and releasing of different muscles.

  6. Aquatic therapy, such as gentle exercises in a swimming pool. The natural buoyancy of the water allows you to exercise without as much effort.

MS Spasticity triggers

There are certain triggers that can make MS spasticity worse. Triggers may include:

  • Increase in body temperature (after exercise or secondary to infection e.g. chest or urinary tract)
  • MS relapse
  • Full bladder or constipation
  • Skin irritation (e.g. pressure sores)
  • Tight clothing
  • Postural problems
  • Stress

If you incorporate exercise and stretches into your daily routine and follow an evidence-based Overcoming MS lifestyle you may be able to reduce the effects of spasticity without needing medication. But many people with MS use medication to help improve their symptoms, such as Baclofen or CBD oil.

Our evidence-basedProgram combines a number of these lifestyle changes and will also help to improve many other MS symptoms you may be experiencing as well as slow the progression of your MS.

What are the next steps?

If it seems like there is too much information and you don’t know where to start, read through our next steps – we can help you.