Spasticity from Brain Injury – Definition and Examples


By Gordon Johnson

Call me at 800-992-9447

The definition of spasticity is a disorder of the control of the muscles.  It is characterized by stiff or tight muscles and the inability to control the muscles.  An example is gripping something and not being able to let go of your grip.  When the signals from the central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord, are mixed or imbalanced spasticity can occur.  Spasticity is often a symptom caused by traumatic brain injury.

Some of the symptoms of spasticity are;

  • Overactive reflexes
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Decreased function and delayed motor development
  • Abnormal Posture
  • Deformed bones and joints
  • Contraction of muscles and tendons due to stiffness and spasms
  • Involuntary movements
  • Difficulty with hygiene

Spasticity is most often treated with medicines.  Some of the more effective medicines are;

  • Zanaflex (baclofen)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Dantrium (dantrolene)
  • Clonazepan (klonopin)

Physical and Occupational therapy play a big role in rehabilitation for the condition of spasticity.  Sometimes surgery is appropriate to release tendons and cut nerve-muscle pathways.  A baclofen pump may also be surgically placed.

To give examples of spasticity we turn to our TBI Voices project.  These are stories of real traumatic brain injury survivors and their deficits caused by brain injury.  Our first example will be with the story of Doug. Doug was involved in a single car wreck when his brakes went out and he hit a telephone pole.  The accident left Doug in a coma for a couple of months.  Doug explains that one of his biggest deficits or brain injury symptoms is spasticity.  In his own words; “It’s basically a build up in your muscles that causes the muscles to start shaking.   I wear a knee brace at night to help keep my legs straight and I  usually take it off in the middle of the night because I don’t need it.  In the morning if I try to stretch out my leg it will  start shaking really hard.  That’s usually the spasticity. Or like sometimes in my arm, if I get up in the morning, the first time I get up my arm will just start shaking real hard. “

Doug started out his treatment for his spasticity with botox and baclofen.  First it was just botox shots and they surgically placed a baclofen pump in him.  He states that he has more luck with the pump as it distributes the medicine equally.  He has to have the baclofen pump filled every three months but it helps tremendously and because of it he takes less medicine.  To read Dougs entire story click here.

Our second example comes from the story of Craig. Craig was hit by a drunk driver going over 100 miles per hour while he was on his way to work.  His injuries resulted in a month long coma and traumatic brain injury.  Craig talks about his spasticity as a result of his injuries; “I have some severe spasticity problems in my shoulders and my elbows for about 100 days of that, every other day.” He states regarding the physical therapy he gets for his spasticity.  When asked on how they are treating the spasticity he remarks; “They did some Botox shots which was the first thing that really helped because it was very painful to even really move my arms. The Botox made it easier to do some of the physical therapies. And the band therapy,  I went outside of my network because, obviously my wife worked in the physical therapy  department, so I paid for it out of pocket.” To hear Craig’s entire story click here.

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Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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