Spasms and stiffness (collectively called spasticity) are very common in MS. Spasticity can affect many aspects of daily life. For instance, it can affect walking, sitting, turning over in bed and sexual relationships. In order for people to move normally, one group of muscles in the body relaxes while another simultaneously contracts.
In MS, spasticity results from more than one group of muscles contracting at the same time and this can result in muscle stiffness or spasms.
Stiffness of the limbs is common and can make it difficult to perform normal activities, particularly delicate movements of the hand and fingers. If the leg muscles are involved it can also make walking difficult. Despite limbs being stiff, it is also possible that the muscles may be weak.
Spasms are uncontrollable muscle contractions and can be very painful; limbs may shoot away or bend up towards the body. These can result in fatigue and pain.
Managing spasticity involves a combination of drugs, physiotherapy, alternative therapies and avoiding factors that trigger or make symptoms worse.
Medicines are taken alone or in combinations and it may take several attempts to find the correct drug and strength.
Drugs such as Baclofen, Tizanidine, Dantrolene and Diazepam are commonly used and for more severe spasticity, Botulinum Toxin, Baclofen or Phenol given into the spinal fluid or alcohol injections and surgery to cut the tendons can be of benefit.
People have reported that cannabis reduces these symptoms and large-scale research trials looking into this started in 2001.
Physiotherapy is aimed at strengthening, stretching and relaxing muscles, increasing joint movements and improving circulation.
A Physiotherapist may provide a series of specially tailored exercises to be done at home. An Occupational Therapist can help alleviate spasticity by providing equipment to help daily activities and can sometimes suggest braces or splints to make movement easier and more comfortable.
Exercise in water (hydrotherapy) has also been used to relax limbs but care should be taken as some people find the temperature of the water may increase their fatigue.