Multiple Sclerosis

Muscle stiffness and spasms, or spasticity, are common symptoms affecting around 1 in 5 people with multiple sclerosis.

Nerve damage in MS affects signals between the brain and some muscles. Stiffness often affects muscles in the legs and arms meaning they may become too tight and won’t relax. Spasms are involuntary or jerky movements. Both can cause difficulties with daily life, including walking.

MS spasticity may be helped with medication, physiotherapy or occupational therapy.

What triggers spasticity?

Spasticity may be aggravated by extremes of temperature, humidity or infections. It can even be triggered by tight clothing. Identifying triggers may help reduce stiffness and spasms.

How is spasticity diagnosed?

To diagnose spasticity your doctor will first evaluate your medical history, including what medications you have taken and whether there is a history of neurological or muscular disorders in your family. To confirm the diagnosis several tests can be performed to evaluate your arm and leg movements, muscular activity, passive and active range of movement and ability to perform self-care activities.

How is spasticity treated?

Spasticity can be treated using physiotherapy, medication, surgery or any combination of these treatments. Your doctors will consider the severity of your condition, your overall health and the following factors when prescribing an appropriate treatment plan:

  • Is the spasticity affecting function or independence?

  • Is the spasticity painful?

  • What treatment options have already been tried, and how well did they work?

  • What are the limitations and side effects of the treatment?

  • Will the benefits outweigh the risks?

How does physiotherapy and occupational therapy help spasticity?

A basic physiotherapy stretching programme is the first step in treating spasticity. A programme of stretching can lengthen muscles to help decrease spasticity.

An occupational therapist may prescribe splinting, casting and bracing techniques to maintain a range of movement and flexibility.

If physiotherapy and occupational therapy do not adequately control the spasticity, medication may be added to the treatment plan.


  • Occupational Therapy. An occupational therapist can help you find ways to remain independent. Adaptive equipment can help you perform daily activities such as dressing, grooming, eating and bathing.

    An occupational therapist can also help you modify your home to allow accessibility if you have trouble walking safely.

    Occupational therapists also have a good understanding of how assistive technology and computers can be used, even if your hands are weak.

An occupational therapist can also help you modify your home to allow accessibility if you have trouble walking safely.

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