Spasticity: A Literal Pain

Last updated: July 2022

Spasticity in MS is defined as a tightness or stiffness in the muscles that typically occurs in the legs, butt or groin. It is said to be caused by the demyelination along the nerves of the brain and spinal cord that control our movement. It can range from mild to severe. Involuntary muscle spasms also tend to happen with the tightness which amplifies the pain. The more severe the stiffness, the more painful. Spasticity has been an issue for me for a long time. For forever though, I didn’t realize that it was one of my symptoms.

Spasticity in the back is much less common

Spasticity in the back is much less common, but that is the most prominent spot that it occurs for me. My neck, back, and my hips are extremely tight, stiff, and uncomfortable. The stiffness in my upper back causes my back and neck muscles to compete. It has made my neck weak, and because of that, I’ve developed a head tremor. I tell my husband, I feel like a 27-year-old stuck in an old lady’s body. The heating pad and Salonpas pain relieving patches have become my best friends.

Tight, knotted ropes

The stiffness in my hips has been an ongoing issue. My hips have always been tight. But my hips are mild and thankfully do not cause me much pain or problems with walking. The spasticity in my neck and back, however, have worsened in the past 5 to 10 years. My back (my shoulders especially) feel like they are full of tight, knotted ropes. They are always tense, and it feels impossible to get them to relax. It is so painful. I notice my spasticity is worse when I’m unusually stressed or anxious. I also become more fatigued when I’m dealing with tightness in my back because it makes upper body movements seem more strenuous. It also doesn’t help to carry around a 30-pound toddler most of the day, but he’s worth it.

How I manage my MS spasticity pain

Pain caused by spasticity is influential over my mood and affects my ability to sleep. Pain is distracting, plain and simple. So what can we do to help that? There are several strategies I use to help ease discomfort from spasticity. The biggest thing that helps me is stretching. I enjoy yoga and pilates to help alleviate some of the stiffness. I love stretching the most, because it is so simple, yet so effective. Plus, it helps, so I’m all about that. I also benefit from the heating pad as I mentioned (I just have to make sure it’s not too hot) and Salonpas. I’ve used the prescription gel, Voltaren Gel as well. Another thing I’ve found to be effective is steroid shots in my upper back, to help calm down inflammation, but I have not used those in a couple of years.

Using a TENS unit

I also recently purchased a TENS Unit per recommendation of my doctor which is transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS). These types of units deliver short bursts of electricity to help safely stimulate the nerves. What this means is that it reduces the pain signals delivered from the pain sources to the central nervous system. And, that helps relax the muscles and provide pain relief. It also stimulates endorphin production which is our bodies natural pain relief hormones. You can find cheap TENS Units just about anywhere online, I happened to find mine on Amazon for a whole $30. If this is something you choose to also pursue (just like with any other form of pain treatment I’ve suggested), I highly recommend talking to your doctor first, and making sure to carefully follow the directions that come with your unit. They are not a quick fix, but will provide a bit of relief. I have also tried muscle relaxants in the past, Tizanidine to be exact. I love the temporary relief they provide, however, I don’t like that I can only take them at night because they knock me out. They also make me drowsy the next day, and at times seem to worsen the spasticity the following day as well.

Back spasticity?

Again, spasticity is relatively prevalent in the lower extremities, but not nearly as prevalent in the back. So my question to my readers is; Do any of you deal with back spasticity? And what have you found to help?



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