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What is spasticity?

Spasticity is a condition in which there is an abnormal increase in muscle tone or stiffness of muscle, which might interfere with movement, speech, or be associated with discomfort or pain.  Spasticity is usually caused by damage to nerve pathways within the brain or spinal cord that control muscle movement. It may occur in association with:

  • Spinal cord injury
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Stroke
  • Brain or head trauma
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Hereditary spastic paraplegias
  • Metabolic diseases such as adrenoleukodystrophy, phenylketonuria, and krabbe disease

Symptoms may include:

  • Hypertonicity (increased muscle tone)
  • Clonus (a series of rapid muscle contractions)
  • Exaggerated deep tendon reflexes
  • Muscle spasms
  • Scissoring (involuntary crossing of the legs)
  • Fixed joints (contractures)

The degree of spasticity varies from mild muscle stiffness to severe, painful, and uncontrollable muscle spasms. Spasticity can interfere with rehabilitation in people with certain disorders, and often interferes with daily activities.

Treatment may include such medications as baclofen, diazepam, tizanidine or clonazepam. Physical therapy regimens may include muscle stretching and range of motion exercises to help prevent shrinkage or shortening of muscles and to reduce the severity of symptoms. Targeted injection of botulinum toxin into muscles with the most tome can help to selectively weaken these muscles to improve range of motion and function.  Surgery may be recommended for tendon release or to sever the nerve-muscle pathway.

The prognosis for those with spasticity depends on the severity of the spasticity and the associated disorder(s).

Learn About Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with spasticity?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about spasticity and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with spasticity at


Where can I find more information about spasticity?

The following organizations and resources help people with spasticity and their families, friends, and caregivers:

Phone: 800-221-6827

March of Dimes
Phone: 888-663-4637

National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Phone: 800-344-4867

United Cerebral Palsy (UCP)
Phone: 202-776-0406 or 800-872-5827


Information about spasticity is also available:



Order publications from the NINDS Catalog
The NINDS Publication Catalog offers printed materials on neurological disorders for patients, health professionals, and the general public. All materials are free of charge, and a downloadable PDF version is also available for most publications.