Stiff Neck

Muscles and nerves are designed to perform many functions, including keeping you moving, but painful tightness can threaten that task.

If your muscles routinely feel stiff or like they are pulling or spasming, you should talk to your doctor about spasticity. Spasticity is a condition of abnormal muscle function associated with many neurological diseases and injuries.

Not having full control of your muscles and joints can make living independently feel difficult. But doctors at UPMC’s three Pittsburgh-area spasticity clinics can help ease your symptoms and help you perform daily tasks with more confidence.

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Spasticity Causes

Spasticity is caused by diseases of the nervous system that interfere with normal communication between the nerves and muscles. This inability to talk back and forth normally makes the muscles overactive, which most sufferers experience as tightness or jumpiness.

The most common cause of spasticity is cerebral palsy. Other common causes include stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and multiple sclerosis.

Spasticity Symptoms

Spasticity can affect any muscle in the body. It is most noticeable when it affects the large muscles responsible for movement or the muscles involved in speech.

Affecting millions of people worldwide, spasticity symptoms can range from slight joint or muscle stiffness to uncontrollable spasms that make it hard to walk, stand, keep clean, and even eat, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

If left untreated, severe spasticity limiting a joint’s range of motion can become permanent and lead to even more obstacles to good quality of life.

Spasticity Treatment

No matter how recent the diagnosis, the UPMC Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation spasticity clinics feature world-class treatment options for people living with spasticity.

First, doctors take a look at the severity of your case and develop a specialized treatment plan. This may involve oral medications, injections, physical therapy, or, in some cases, surgery. Your doctor will consider your goals, preferences, and lifestyle in crafting your action plan.

Your doctor may choose to start your treatment with physical or occupational therapy in combination with medications. This may help decrease your symptoms and get back lost function.

Some of the medications work to decrease the hyperactivity of the nervous system that drives spasticity, including baclofen, diazepam, or tizanidine. Dantrolene works in a different way by directly decreasing the strength of spastic muscles to decrease the noticeability of symptoms.

For those facing partial spasticity, injections may be the way to go. Injections allow doctors to treat affected muscles with precision with much less risk for systemic side effects compared to oral medications.

Specialists may use botulinum toxins to weaken hyperactive muscles in a very similar way to how they are used for cosmetic purposes to reduce the appearance of wrinkles in the face. Or, they may inject phenol to directly affect the nerves controlling the muscles to improve a person’s range of motion and comfort.

Some cases of spasticity result in contracture, or a permanent tightening of the muscles causing them to shorten and stiffen. In circumstances where spasticity is so severe that a joint becomes contracted and does not improve with medications or therapies, surgical procedures can be an option to lengthen shortened muscle tendons to restore range of motion. Relief is still possible.

For cases where spasticity would require too much medication by mouth or injection and likely cause a lot of side effects (usually when it affects all of the muscles of both legs), a surgeon can implant a pump that infuses baclofen or other medications directly to the spinal cord. This allows for much lower doses.

For more information about the UPMC Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation or to make an appointment, visit our website or call 412-692-4400.

About Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

At UPMC, we strive to improve your function after injury or illness. We help people recover from functional, pain-related, and neurological conditions, with both inpatient and outpatient care available. We are dedicated to providing you with exceptional clinical care and focused on developing new technologies and treatments to help you achieve mobility and maintain independence. Find a provider near you.