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  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:




Spasticity is when muscles tighten without control.

Contraction of the Hand.

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Signals travel from the brain through the spinal cord. They control the amount of tension in a muscle. Injury to the brain or spine disturbs the signals. This causes spasticity.

Risk Factors

The risk of this problem is higher in people who have damage to the brain or spine. This may be from:


Problems may range from tightness to strong spasms. A person may also have:

  • Stiffness that can make fine movements hard
  • Lack of muscle strength
  • Pain
  • A hard time using the muscles needed to move or communicate
  • Movements that cannot be controlled
  • Problems doing daily tasks


The doctor will ask symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on how you move. This may be enough to make the diagnosis.

Blood tests may be done.

Pictures may also be taken. This can be done with:

Nerve and muscle function may be tested. This can be done with electromyography/nerve conduction study.


The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Choices are:

  • Medicine to relax muscles
  • Physical therapy to improve strength and range of motion
  • Braces and other devices to provide support
  • Occupational therapy to learn new ways to do daily tasks

Marijuana may also be an option for people who live in certain states. It has been approved for some health problems, such as spasticity.

Some people may need surgery for severe spasticity if other methods do not help. The nerve that sends sensory messages from the muscles to the spine will be cut. It may help reduce the strength of muscle stiffness and spasms.


There are no known guidelines to prevent this problem.





  • Eckert MJ, Martin MJ. Trauma: Spinal Cord Injury. Surg Clin North Am. 2017 Oct;97(5):1031-1045.
  • Spasticity. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.aans.org/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Spasticity.
  • Spasticity. Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation website. Available at: https://www.christopherreeve.org/living-with-paralysis/health/secondary-conditions/spasticity.
  • Spasticity. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms/Spasticity.
  • Spinal cord injury - chronic management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/management-of-chronic-spinal-cord-injury.


  • Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.