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Spasticity is a very common problem among people who have been diagnosed with MS. It’s characterized by muscle stiffness or tightness, and can affect different parts of the body.

Since spasticity causes the muscles to become stiff and heavy, it can sometimes be beneficial to an MS patient. One of the biggest challenges that a person who suffers from MS has to face is muscle weakness. In the long run, this can cause major mobility issues, as patients find it difficult to walk and stay active. Spasticity can force the legs muscles to become stiff, which can help patients with their mobility, for short periods of time.

Spasms and spasticity are different

A spasm is characterized by the sudden contraction or tightening of a muscle. While spasms can occur in pretty much every part of the body, they are most common in the trunk, arms, and legs. Both spasticity and spasms can manifest themselves within a range of mild to severe. In some cases, they can be painful, but other times they are just frustrating and annoying. However, the major risk with both of these symptoms is the risk of fall and injury.

Spasticity is almost inevitable

Statistics have shown that about 80 percent of people who have been diagnosed with MS will end up showing signs of stiffness and spasticity. However, the degree of severity will be different from one person to another. For some patients, spasticity will only affect one of the limbs, while for others, it can completely impair movement, making walking difficult towards impossible.

Stiffness leads to fatigue

When walking becomes difficult as a consequence of stiffness and spasticity, patients will need to make additional effort to move around. Naturally, this effort will lead to the appearance or aggravation of fatigue symptoms, which are another common MS-related issue.

Self-help methods can improve spasticity

Since MS symptoms are known for affecting patients at a psychological level, a lot of them just give up and accept their condition, without trying to take some action to help the symptoms improve. In desperate times, it’s important for every MS patient to stop assuming that there’s nothing to be done, and just quit trying. While spasticity cannot be cured completely, there are ways to improve it, or at least keep it under control:

  • A physical therapist can suggest an exercise plan. Staying active is very important and can usually combat a lot of MS symptoms that impair movement. Regular exercise should be a part of every MS patient’s routine. However, exercises should only be done after the patient sees a specialist, as some of them may overstress the body and cause unnecessary complications in the long term.
  • Relaxation techniques might not cure spasticity, but they are a way to cope with it as well as relax the mind. Muscle relaxation exercises, deep-breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga can alleviate spasticity symptoms and help patients sleep better, in order to feel well-rested and face the challenges that may arise the following day.
  • Massage can sometimes be beneficial, but it’s up to the doctor to determine if you should attend massage sessions or not.  In some patients, pressure sores can pose a real problem, which means that massage shouldn’t be recommended. When the doctor gives the patient the green light, massage can help the muscles relax and induce a state of calm and serenity.

Orthotic devices are a possible solution

When spasticity gets out of control, orthotic devices can help a patient maintain some of their mobility. These devices can be anything from splints to braces, and they help MS patients move around or stay in more comfortable positions. For spasticity-related problems, the ankle-foot orthosis is the most commonly-used device. It helps the ankle stay aligned. Keep in mind that these devices should always be fitted by a professional.

There have been cases where patients purchase over-the-counter devices which are ill-fitting and this can lead to further aggravations of spasticity and stiffness symptoms.

Occupational therapy can improve the quality of life

Spasticity can cause pain and discomfort and will automatically decrease the quality of life for an MS patient. With the help of an occupational therapist, patients can learn new ways to combat these symptoms, or they can discover new ways to adapt to this condition while still being able to enjoy their lives.

Some of the things that occupational therapy can teach you are:

  • How to get dressed with a minimum of effort. This process of teaching MS patients how to conserve energy when getting dressed is especially useful for those who experience spasticity in their arms or legs.
  • How to make home improvements that make getting around the house a bit easier. This includes switching small drawer knobs with bigger ones, lowering clothes in your dressing room or closet, and even spraying your drawers to make them glide with ease.
  • How to use wheelchairs properly to avoid any extra spasticity episodes. Sometimes, all it takes is adjusting the footrest or the width of the seat in order to enjoy a more comfortable position.

Surgery is generally not a solution

Spasticity can be improved with certain medications, but surgery is the ultimate form of treatment, and one that’s not typically recommended. Selective Dorsal Root Rhizotomy is an operation that’s typically performed in children who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. In some cases, neurologists recommend surgery, but only when spasticity is treated through medication.

Conclusion

While spasticity can take a toll on a person’s life, there are different treatment methods that can keep in under control. The goal here is to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible, and to reduce the stress that comes along with problems in mobility. Spasticity, as well as other symptoms that commonly occur among MS patients, generally have different means to deal with the problem, even if most of them don’t have a cure.

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