Published: June 3, 2006

Spasticity is common in varying degrees after spinal cord injury. Spasticity is a non-specific symptom, which may occur in many problems associated with spinal cord injury.

Spasticity is the involuntary movement (jerking) of muscles, which occurs because message can travel from parts of your body to the spinal cord and cause Reflex activity (muscle movement). This is possible because the spinal cord has certain normal automatic functions, which are under the influence of the brain. These functions include muscle tone and reflexes. Most spinal cord injured persons have a healthy, intact spinal cord below the immediate area of their injury, and thus these automatic activities can continue to exist. However, they are no longer under the regulating influence of the brain and are thus exaggerated. This is called spasticity.

Any sensory stimulus below the level of injury can cause spasticity, for example, a change in body position (i.e., movement of an extremity), bladder irritation, pressure sores, fractured bones or a Bowel program.

Sometimes, minor degrees of spasticity may be helpful to you. Due to the muscle movement, your circulation is improved and the movement also helps to maintain the shape and bulk of your muscles. However, if it is severe, spasticity can interfere with Functional activities such as transfers, weight shifts, Gait Training, etc.

Some stimuli can cause a change in your spasticity. Anything that would ordinarily be uncomfortable or painful can cause an increase in your spasticity. If you experience a major increase in spasticity, possible causes are:

* Skin problems – a skin sore or ingrown toenail
* Bladder problems – high residuals, infection or bladder stones
* Bowel problems – constipation, impactions or hemorrhoids
* Medical problems – viral syndrome (infection, influenza, intestinal flu), Heterotopic Ossification or a spinal Cyst.

Although a change in the pattern of your spasticity does not always indicate another problem, it is wise to check all possibilities.

If your spasticity is severe and interferes with function, there are several medications that may be of help — Valium, Dantrium, and Lioresal. A surgical procedure called a radiofrequency Rhizotomy is sometimes indicated in the treatment of severe spasticity. If you have increased spasticity, which persists, consult your physician.


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