What is Spasticity?
Spasticity (also known as myoclonus or spasm) refers to involuntary muscle contractions that are often associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). The term “spasms” may refer to any type of involuntary movement, but these movements tend to involve one or more muscles in the body. For example, when someone’s jaw clenches shut, their face twitches. When they breathe deeply through their nose, their chest rises and falls. These involuntary movements are called spasms.
The most common cause of spasms is MS, which causes progressive damage to the central nervous system (CNS), causing symptoms such as weakness, numbness, tingling or paralysis of specific muscles. Spasticity may occur in other neurological disorders including stroke, spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injuries. However, it appears to be more prevalent in MS than in any other neurological disorder.
In MS, spasms are usually caused by inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. There is no cure for MS; however, medications have been developed to slow down or stop the progression of the disease. Most commonly used drugs include interferon beta-1a (Rebif), glatiramer acetate (Remicade), etanercept (Enbrel) and tacrolimus (Deltaset).
Some patients with spasticity may not even know they have the condition until a doctor or nurse notices their leg is bouncing under the covers. While some patients have fairly obvious symptoms, such as uncontrollable leg movements at rest, other patients’ spasms may be subtler. Some people with spasticity simply find their limbs particularly stiff and inflexible.
Spasticity may be classified as either “primary” or “secondary.” Those with primary spasticity have no other medical condition causing their spasms. In secondary spasticity, there is another obvious underlying cause of the spasms.
This may include an infection, a tumor or some other medical condition.
Spasms can range from mild to severe in intensity and frequency. Those who suffer from severe spasms may need assistive devices to help them perform day-to-day activities.
Spasms in MS can also be associated with other symptoms, such as pain, bladder problems, sexual dysfunction and fatigue.
You undergo an examination by a neurologist or another type of physician. He or she will perform a complete physical and neurological assessment. The physician will ask you about the sensations you experience as well as any other symptoms you have.
You may then undergo the following tests if they seem appropriate:
Muscle and nerve conduction studies measure how well your nerves carry messages back and forth from your brain and to your limbs.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is a test that measures the magnetic fields in your brain.
Computed tomography (CT) scan makes a series of detailed images of your body, including the bones, muscles and organs.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) makes a series of detailed images of your body, including the bones, muscles and organs. During the procedure, you lie inside a large machine that contains a strong magnet.
Lumbar puncture (also known as spinal tap) involves the insertion of a needle between the bones of your lower back. This procedure is used to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is examined for evidence of infection or other abnormalities.