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Spasticity and MS

By Matt Cavallo
MS and its symptoms certainly keep you on your toes. However, sometimes those toes can be hard to stand on because your legs are shaking uncontrollably because of tremors. This happens to me sometimes and it is super annoying because I can’t predict when or why it is going to happen. I just have to wait for the tremor to subside before I can do anything else. The good news with my tremors is that they only last a couple of seconds. As with all MS symptoms, your experience may be different.

For me, my tremors happen on my right side. I had a significant relapse a few years ago that affected my right leg, among other things, and the tremors seems to have started after that relapse occurred. Along with the tremors, I found that my right hamstring became incredibly stiff to the point where sometimes I get scared that it is going to snap from just doing every day things such as walking or playing with my kids. Knowing that my tremors and the tightness symptoms were likely MS related, I started to research spasticity. Here is what my research revealed. 

Spasticity is a common MS symptom and refers to stiffness and involuntary muscle spasms. The symptoms can be mild or extremely painful. Spasticity can also cause pain and tightness around your joints and lower back. The most common areas for spasticity to occur are in the legs, arms, and back. These are all areas that I have struggled with for the past couple of years. It seems that no matter how much I stretch, I can’t get loose and suffer from these uncontrollable, unpredictable jerking movements in my right leg. 

So, what aggravates spasticity? Through my research, I learned that spasticity can be triggered by sudden movement, position change, and even temperature. If it is too hot and humid, then there could be an increased chance of spasticity in the forecast. I read that certain clothing may trigger spasticity, too, so you may want to avoid those skinny jeans and wear something more comfortable. 

Are there treatments available for spasticity? As I mentioned before, I have tried to stretch it out to no avail, but that doesn’t mean that yoga can’t help. There are yoga therapies for spasticity that work on restorative poses to calm the body and reduce unwanted reflexes. Yoga is a practice that I would personally recommend for everyone living with MS, but there are also more traditional ways to treat spasticity. Physical and occupational therapy can help prevent painful contractures caused by spasticity. A contracture is a deformity that can result from the stiffness or constriction of the connective tissues in your body. Physical and occupational therapists will also provide you a home exercise routine to stretch and strengthen the spastic area.

There are also medications available to treat spasticity. Your neurologist may prescribe a muscle relaxer such as Baclofen or Zanaflex, which are two common treatments for MS and spasticity. There are other medications available, but every person manages their MS symptoms differently, so talking with your neurologist about your spasticity is critical.

Spasticity is a common MS symptom and if not addressed, can lead to further complications. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of spasticity, it is important to let you neurologist know so that you can start to manage this unpredictable and sometimes painful symptom.