Spasticity is a common side effect of spinal-cord injury, but why does it occur and what can you do about it?
It’s no secret people with spinal-cord injury experience spasticity. But what isn’t common knowledge is why those muscle spasms actually occur. The best way to put it: They’re unanswered reflexes. So basically something happens that triggers your muscle to move — something touches you, you get close to something too hot and your muscle reacts by wanting to move away from the discomfort, just an automatic reaction like being touched with out warning and quickly pulling away. But with SCI, when your muscle sends that reflex muscle to tell your brain to move away, the injury in your spinal cord isn’t allowing that message to get through to the brain. So basically, the message bounces back and as a result, the muscle spasms.
This can be caused by several things, basically any touch, movement or discomfort, including:
- Skin irritation such as chafing, rash, heat, cold or pain
- Pressure sores
- Urinary tract infection
- Injury below the point of injury
- Tight clothing
While there are a few benefits to spasticity, such as the toning of muscles and helping with daily tasks, it causes many more problems. Muscle spasms can be painful, make it difficult to complete certain task or maintain control (even sitting upright in your wheelchair), interrupt sleep and cause fatigue and skin breakdown.
In order to prevent these side effects, you have to manage your spasticity. The best way to do this is by avoiding any of the triggers mentioned above. Stick to your bowel and bladder plan to avoid constipation and urinary tract infections. Take care of yourself and dress properly to avoid injury and pressure sores.
To more specifically target spasticity, you can turn to physical treatments to increase flexibility and reduce muscle tightness, which will in turn keep those spasm under control. Do this through daily range-of-motion stretches, weight-bearing exercises and by wearing splints or braces.
Several medications are also on the market for controlling spasticity, but several of them come with side effects on their own and should be resorted to after trying physical treatment options.
As always, consult a doctor about spasticity care before making any changes to your health regimen. For more information, visit sci.washington.edu.