Spasticity and Brain Injury

Prevalence and Effects

Spasticity results from a disorder of or injury to the central nervous system, such as a traumatic brain injury. The central nervous system—made up of the brain and spinal cord—works as a network of nerves connected to muscles. Complex messages continuously move back and forth between the muscles and the brain, using the spinal cord as a pathway. Normally, muscle groups in the nervous system work together so when one is flexed, its opposing muscle is relaxed. This helps maintain a comfortable level of muscle tone that provides support for the body and makes movement easy.

After a brain injury, the brain may not be able to send or receive these messages. As a result, the system is disturbed so that muscles needlessly stay tight or contracted.

Research indicates that up to 50% of brain injury patients develop spasticity. This condition:

  • Varies from mild to severe
  • Is different for every individual
  • Does not always need to be treated

After brain injury, a joint may be limp at first and then become very tight, difficult to move, and painful.

Untreated spasticity can lead to contractures (a permanent condition), cause an increase in joint flexion, and interfere with a person’s ability to walk and/or perform self-care.

(1-not helpful, 5-very helpful)

Treatment and Management

Medical treatment includes rehabilitation therapy, casting and/or splinting, prescription medication, injected medication, and intrathecal medication directly administered through an implanted pump.  In extreme cases, surgery is necessary.  It is particularly important to identify a medical professional who has a clear understanding of the special needs and unique characteristics of individuals with brain injury when treating spasticity.

Resources

To learn more about brain injury and spasticity, visit BIAA’s website.