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10 Causes of Spasticity

What Is Spasticity?

Spasticity is a neurological condition characterized by an abnormal muscle tone or stiffness increase, which can significantly impair bodily functions and daily activities. This condition varies from mild stiffness to severe, painful, uncontrollable muscle spasms. Common signs and symptoms of spasticity include discomfort or pain, hypertonicity, clonus, exaggerated deep tendon reflexes, muscle spasms, involuntary leg movements, and fixed joints.

Causes of Spasticity

Spasticity can result from a variety of causes:

  1. Damage to Nerve Pathways: Any damage to the nerve pathways within the central nervous system that control muscle movement can lead to spasticity. This includes damage from degenerative diseases or physical injury.
  2. Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): Injuries to the spinal cord disrupt its function, potentially resulting in temporary or permanent changes that cause muscle overactivity.
  3. Multiple Sclerosis (MS): MS damages the myelin sheath, the protective covering of brain and spinal cord nerve fibers. This impairs communication between the brain and muscles, which can lead to spasticity.
  4. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive neurological disease that causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles, often resulting in spasticity.
  5. Cerebral Palsy: This group of disorders affects movement and coordination, originating from damage to the developing brain, typically before birth.
  6. Stroke: A stroke interrupts the blood supply to part of the brain, causing brain cells to die. The resulting damage can affect nerve pathways that control muscle tone, leading to spasticity.
  7. Brain or Head Trauma: Severe injuries to the brain can disrupt its ability to send proper signals to muscles, resulting in spasticity. This category includes traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other forms of head trauma.
  8. Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP): This inherited condition involves progressive stiffness and weakness, particularly in the legs, due to nerve degeneration.
  9. Infections: Infections like meningitis or encephalitis that affect the brain or spinal cord can cause spasticity by inflaming or damaging areas controlling muscle movements.
  10. Metabolic Diseases: Conditions that disrupt metabolic processes can indirectly contribute to spasticity. For instance, metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, can impact neurological function and muscle control.

Understanding the various potential causes of spasticity is crucial for developing an effective treatment strategy. 

Treatment and Management

Understanding the underlying cause of spasticity is crucial for effective management. The condition affects muscle control and can lead to complications such as muscle contracture, where muscles remain permanently shortened. Spasticity can result from various causes, including spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, stroke, brain trauma, and hereditary conditions, making a comprehensive approach to treatment essential.

While addressing the physical aspects of spasticity is paramount, it’s equally important to consider the potential psychological impacts. Many medications commonly used to manage spasticity symptoms, such as muscle relaxants and antispastic agents, can increase the risk of depression as a side effect. Although these drugs effectively reduce muscle stiffness and spasms, they can interfere with neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood, leading to symptoms like persistent sadness, loss of interest, and changes in appetite or sleep patterns.

An integrated, multidisciplinary approach is highly recommended to combat this risk and ensure holistic care. This approach combines physical therapy exercises to improve mobility and reduce discomfort, medication management to control spasticity symptoms, and psychological support to monitor and address any potential emotional or mental health concerns, including the risk of depression from certain medications.

In more severe cases, interventions like Botox injections or surgical procedures may be necessary to relieve muscle tightness and improve functional abilities. However, even with these interventions, ongoing assessment by a team of specialists, including a movement disorders expert, rehabilitation specialist, and mental health professional, is essential. This team can work together to adjust treatment plans as the condition progresses or improves and to promptly identify and address any signs of depression or other psychological impacts.

Lifestyle adjustments, counseling, assistive devices, and support group participation may also be recommended as part of the integrated approach. By addressing the physical, emotional, and practical aspects of spasticity holistically, this comprehensive strategy can significantly improve symptom management, quality of life, and overall well-being for individuals living with this challenging condition while mitigating the risk of potential side effects like depression.

Expert Care at Neurology Solutions Movement Disorders Center

If you or a loved one is dealing with spasticity, expert care by a movement disorders specialist is crucial. Dr. Robert Izor, a fellowship-trained, board-certified neurologist, specializes in diagnosing and treating movement disorders and offers a comprehensive approach to managing spasticity. In 2004, Dr. Izor founded Neurology Solutions Movement Disorders Center (NSC), the first subspecialty movement disorder clinic in Central Texas.

NSC provides a continuum of care that includes:

  • Medication management
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Physical therapy
  • Cognitive evaluation
  • Pain and spasticity control
  • Sleep evaluation
  • Surgical management options like deep brain stimulation

Additionally, NSC offers innovative treatments such as Botox injections and implanted pumps for long-term spasticity control. Dr. Izor is passionate about improving access to advanced interventional neurology services and increasing community awareness about movement disorders. Join our monthly support group meetings for medical-provider-led discussions on holistic, traditional, and technological approaches to treatment. Contact Neurology Solutions to optimize your treatment and quality of life. For more information, visit neurologysolutions.com or call us at 512-977-7000.

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