Have your legs ever felt so tight that you could hardly walk? Or has your arm stiffened to the point where you couldn’t brush your teeth? If this has happened to you, you’re not alone. This muscle tightness, called spasticity, occurs in an estimated 80% of the MS community in one form or another. This symptom of MS can be mild muscle tightness or severe enough to cause painful muscle spasms. Addressing spasticity head-on (or early) can make all the difference, so let’s look at what spasticity is, its causes, and some common approaches to managing the symptom.
What Is Spasticity
Whenever you move a part of your body, some muscles relax while their counterparts contract. You can see this quickly by feeling your forearm as you flex and extend your wrist. MS causes a disruption in how muscles coordinate movement, which can cause too many muscles contracting at the same time.
Spasticity is the feeling of muscle stiffness or tightness and any spasms that go with it. More commonly occurring in the legs, this symptom can not only make your legs feel heavy but also make walking extremely difficult. The other side of spasticity is that it may cause uncontrollable movements as your muscles contract on their own.
There are two types of spasticity. Flexor spasticity mostly involves the muscles of the hamstrings (back of the leg) and hip flexors (top of the upper thigh). Flexor spasticity can bend the hips and knees, making them difficult to straighten. Extensor spasticity mostly involves muscles of the quadriceps (front of the leg) and adductors (inside of the leg). Extensor spasticity can straighten the hips and knees making the legs close together or crossed over at the ankles.
The breakdown of myelin causes slow or interrupted nerve pulses, causing the muscles to potentially do one of three things: tighten involuntarily, not relax as quickly as intended, or stay tight and contracted for a long duration. Several external factors can trigger spasticity, such as infections, pain, stress, heat and more.
Allowing spasticity to go untreated can lead to serious developments like frozen or immobilized joints and pressure sores. These new symptoms also serve to trigger spasticity, so it can create an uncomfortable cycle. Learning to manage your spasticity today will pay off dividends in both the near-term and long-term health of your body.
Below are some of our favorite tips and tricks for managing MS spasticity:
Stretch consistently - For cases of mild spasticity, stretching consistently may be all you need to prevent bouts of tension and pain
Massage the areas of spasticity - In addition to relaxing the muscle, this external stimulus can send the message back up to your brain to change how it is communicating with those muscles
Stay active - By remaining active and using your body, you keep sending the signals to act to your muscles and slow the breakdown in muscle strength and coordination
Physical therapy - This may involve a more personalized regimen of exercises and stretches. If you are unable to stretch your own muscles, a physical therapist will be able to do this for you
Much like every other part of MS, the triggers of spasticity and the best sources of relief will be unique to you. Listen to your body and work in close partnership with others around you to best manage your spasticity.
While we cannot be there in person for many of you, Rekinetics has developed programs that can be delivered virtually and make an immediate impact in your quality of life in only 5 minutes a day. You can get to those options by clicking here - Start Now - or fill out a form on the Contact Us page to schedule a time to talk with our team.