Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library



Spasticity is when your muscles tighten without control.

Contraction of the Hand

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Causes  ^

Signals travel from the brain through the spinal cord. They control the amount of tension in a muscle. Injury to the brain or spine disturbs the signals. This causes spasticity.

Risk Factors  ^

Your risk is higher if you have damage to the brain or spine. This may be from:

Symptoms  ^

Your symptoms may range from tightness to strong spasms.

You may also have:

  • Stiffness that can make fine movements hard
  • Lack of muscle strength
  • Pain
  • A hard time using the muscles needed to move or communicate
  • Movements you can’t control
  • Problems doing daily tasks

Over time, spasticity can cause:

  • Misshapen bones, spine, joints, and muscles
  • Poor muscle growth in children

Diagnosis  ^

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will look at how you move. These things can result in diagnosis.

You may need more testing, such as:

  • Blood work
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • Electromyography/nerve conduction study

Treatment  ^

Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. This may mean:

  • Easing muscle spasms
  • Lowering pain
  • Finding ways for you to move and take care of yourself
  • Helping you grasp, move, and let go of objects
  • Enabling normal muscle growth in children
  • Trying to stop you from having problems like deformities, constipation, or bed sores

Here are some things that may help:


Physical and occupational therapy will ease pain by lessening the tension in the muscle. It may use gentle stretches, cold packs, or electrical stimulation.

It will also help to make the muscle work better. This may mean:

  • Exercises to make the muscles strong and flexible
  • Short-term braces or other tools to support you
  • Moving the body parts to increase range of motion
  • Making your coordination better or learning new ways to do daily tasks


Medicines may be needed if you can’t complete daily tasks. You may need:

  • Medicines taken by mouth
  • An implanted pump to put medicine into the spine
  • Botulinum toxin injection—may relax muscles for a few months at a time


In recent years, some states have approved marijuana for certain health problems. Some studies support using it for spasticity. Talk to your doctor about whether it is right for you. Find out whether it is a legal option where you live.


Surgery can help a small number of people. It may be used for severe spasticity.

The nerve that sends sensory messages from the muscles to the spine will be cut. It may help reduce the strength of muscle stiffness and spasm.

Prevention  ^

Spasticity can’t be prevented.


American Association of Neurological Surgeons

Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation


Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation

Health Canada


Kaku M, Simpson DM. Spotlight on botulinum toxin and its potential in the treatment of stroke related spasticity. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2016:10:1085-99.

Spasticity. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: Accessed June 19, 2018.

Spasticity. American Stroke Association. Available at: Updated May 31, 2018. Accessed June 19, 2018.

Spasticity. Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation website. Available at: Accessed June 19, 2019.

Spasticity. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: Accessed June 19, 2019.

Spinal cord injury - chronic management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated September 7, 2017. Accessed June 19, 2019.

7/20/2015 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Whiting PF, Wolff RF, Deshpande S, et al. Cannabinoids for medical use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2015;313(24):2456-2473.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD  Last Updated: 6/19/2018