Spasticity is excessive muscle tightness. It may also be called unusual tightness or increased muscle tone. Reflexes (for example, a knee-jerk reflex) are stronger or exaggerated. Spasticity occurs when muscles continuously contract. It can be very painful and interfere with your daily living.

Upper limb spasticity is spasticity that affects the arms, including the shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands. An estimated 1 million Americans suffer from upper limb spasticity.

Spasticity Symptoms

Symptoms of spasticity include:

  • Abnormal posture
  • Carrying the shoulder, arm, wrist, and finger at an abnormal angle because of muscle tightness
  • Exaggerated deep tendon reflexes (the knee-jerk or other reflexes)
  • Repetitive jerky motions (clonus), especially when you are touched or moved
  • Scissoring (crossing of the legs as the tips of scissors would close)

Spasticity Causes

Spasticity is usually caused by damage to the part of the brain that is involved in movements under your control. It may also occur from damage to the nerves that go from the brain to the spinal cord.

Spasticity may be caused by any of the following:

  • Adrenoleukodystrophy
  • Brain damage caused by lack of oxygen
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Head injury
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neurodegenerative illness
  • Phenylketonuria
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Stroke

Spasticity Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. After determining the cause of your spasticity, your doctor will develop a treatment plan that is right for you. The plan may include:

  • Medicines
  • Physical or occupational therapy
  • Injections, including botulinum toxin
  • Surgery

Spasticity Treatment with Botox®

Neurologists at Wake Forest Baptist spearheaded the clinical trials showing Botox® (botulinum toxin) to be an effective treatment for spasticity, in particular for the wrist and fingers. These trials included the largest study to date evaluating Botox treatment for post-stroke spasticity.

These studies contributed to the FDA’s approval of Botox to treat upper limb spasticity following a stroke.

Patients at Wake Forest Baptist who experience spasticity can receive one-time injections of Botox to the affected area. These treatments allow patients to regain use of their arms and hands. More than that, this innovative spasticity treatment helps our patients regain a sense of independence and restore their quality of life.

Spasticity Treatment with Surgery

Orthopaedic surgery can be used to treat severe upper limb spasticity. The surgeon makes an incision in the skin over the affected muscle and then cuts parts of the muscle to release the tightness.

Multidisciplinary Care for Spasticity at Wake Forest Baptist

At Wake Forest Baptist Health, we offer a full array of surgical and non-surgical treatments. Our team of specialists, including neurologists, orthopaedic surgeons, pediatricians and physical and occupational therapists has extensive experience not only diagnosing and treating spasticity, but also researching new treatment possibilities.

Our goal is to control your symptoms and restore function so you are able to move as normal as possible. We design personalized treatment plans for every patient because not all cases of spasticity are the same. We consider the severity of each patient's condition, their goals and other health factors to find the best treatment option.