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Managing Spasticity after Spinal Cord Injury

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Many victims of spinal cord injury (SCI) suffer spasticity, or uncontrolled tightening and contracting of the muscles. This occurs when the normal flow of signals from the body to the brain is disrupted, and the signals are instead relayed back to the motor cells in the spinal cord, causing reflex muscle spasm. The symptoms of spasticity can include (with varying degrees of severity):

  • Overactive reflexes
  • Sudden, involuntary flexing or extending of a limb
  • Muscle tightness during activity

Fortunately, victims of SCI can manage these symptoms by practicing healthy behaviors and proper self-care that help prevent conditions that can increase spasticity, such as urinary tract infections (UTI) and skin breakdown. They may also turn to medications or even surgery when physical treatments are not enough.

Physical Treatments

  • Stretching twice a day helps maintain flexibility and therefore reduces muscle tightness.
  • Using a standing frame or other supportive devices helps stretch muscles.
  • Wearing splints, braces, or progressive casting provides continuous muscle stretching, which can help prevent spasms.
  • Hot or cold packs can also help alleviate spasms. However, they must be used with care, or else, they may actually irritate symptoms.


  • Your doctor may prescribe you one or more of the following oral medications to treat spasticity: Baclofen, Benzodiazepines, Dantrolene, and/or Tizanidine. These meds can have side effects such as weakness, fatigue, nausea, or sometimes low blood pressure, so make sure your provider monitors the effects closely.
  • If you experience spasticity in certain parts of your body, you may have anesthetic medications, alcohol, phenol, or neurotoxins directly injected into the effected muscles. While injections rarely cause widespread side-effects, their benefits are only temporary, so you will need to receive them a few times a year.
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  • You may undergo surgery to implant a baclofen pump that will deliver medication directly into the spinal canal, around the spinal cord. The advantages of intrathecal baclofen are lower doses, fewer side effects, and more precise dosing. However, those with the implant run the risks of infection as well as mechanical issues.
  • There are other surgical treatments for spasticity that are far less commonly performed due to their irreversible nature. These include myelotomy, rhizotomy, or lengthening and transposing a tendon.

To determine the best treatment(s) for you, discuss your specific needs and goals with your health care provider or team.

Have you or someone you love suffered a spinal cord injury in an auto accident caused by another party? If so, please contact Wilshire Law Firm for immediate assistance. Our experienced California spinal cord injury attorneys can help you get the compensation you need to pay for the best medical care available. To learn more about your rights and legal options in a FREE case evaluation, call us today at (800) 522-7274.

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