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Spasticity: A Literal Pain

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 the 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?



This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • MonstrositySickness101
    10 months ago

    Hi Calie,
    I’m glad I found your post in my search this morning. I have had chronic back pain and burning leg pain for a few years. I have mild cervical spine degeneration (as well as several lesions there) I’m so confused about my pain, is it the lesions that cause it or is it just life? I’m 50 years old so it is probably some of both. I’ve had MS since 2010.
    Over the years I had CT scans on my back, saw a doctor because I thought I had fibromyalgia, did PT. Lots of things to figure out the back pain.
    I honestly think a lot stemed from chronic constipation, sitting on the toilet straining to poop, also trying to pee. I had to force them out. I finally realized that the hard stools made it harder to pee and eventually started taking polyethylene glycol 3350, prescribed by my PCP. I think that’s helped a lot, also changes in prescriptions have helped the constipation.
    With that all said, the damage has been done! Fricken back hurts all the time. It may be upper, middle or lower depending on what it wants to do that day. I did PT for a bit, focusing on the stomach core which was helpful and I do feel relief when I do static back and other exercises I learned in PT. I pretty much just complain about my pain and all my other problems and don’t do anything about it. I am seriously considering taking yoga classes.
    I could probably go on and on, but I need to make breakfast, my boyfriend is getting impatient I think. Lol

  • Harleydog1
    2 years ago

    My husband wants to move to Alaska it would be great for the coolness but he wants to live out under the grid and I’m too chicken for that

  • jdarie
    2 years ago

    Great Website for information, one section gives trusted websites to explore-Medline, WebMD, etc.

  • jdarie
    2 years ago

    I go to a Pain Management Center, it is in a small town Wasilla,Alaska, we are about 50 miles from Anchorage. Algon Pain Management Center, they are also in Utah, but Pain Manage is all over( find one you feel good at but don’t stop at just One! I am a retired RN, so read and research a lot. Momentum magazine put out by the National MS Society (, had an article on pain a couple of years ago. In the article they interviewed several people ( mainly one that has debilitating pain) but one little insert piece was from a woman from SLC, Utah. She also was going to a Pain Management Center that managed MS pain and her doctor used Botox off label for her thighs. Neurologists and Primary Care doctor’s do pills, PT etc, but Pain Management doctors are Interventional Anesthesiologists, they also do PT( usually have their own in the Center ), massage and other noninvasive treatments. But they are trained to intervene into the spaces around the spinal cord. I am having an Intrathecal Pain Pump put in for my leg spasms, which cause deep aching and movement in bed. Baclofen ( for spasms) will be used and maybe, if needed, a drop or two of morphine but for me, the Baclofen should take care of the pain. In using an ITP instead of 60-80mg of Baclofen orally, I will use 1/10th of that, cutting out side effects. I don’t think ITP would be used as high as the cervical spine, but perhaps the Mid-spine. BACK to the lady in the article , she had 10-12 mini doses of Botox ( relaxes muscles ) put into each thigh with an insulin syringe. These doses were put into the main muscles or areas she felt the most uncomfortable. They lasted 3 months and along with stretches it allowed her to work and live fully. My pain management MD had not heard of it but neurologist , who is VERY conservative and uses Botox for shoulder, neck and arm spasms, was Willing to Try!! on one leg only! But I opted for the pump, bacause of having spasm from sacrum down. I would think that this application of Botox, for the large shoulder and back muscles would be perfect and I would jump up on the table, in a prone position in a second, to try!! You won’t find any research on it because like thousands of drugs the “ off label “ use works better than what the drug was studied and developed and then marketed for! Look at all of the anticonvulsants that about 30+ decades ago they had the brilliant idea to use for nerve pain! I had a burning, electrical feeling come over the Left side of my face about 23 years ago, it was my first attack of Trigeminal Neuralgia ( which when bad, like that attack they call Suicide Pain ) Demerol IM controled it in the ER but Tegretal finally made it so I could live, until it finally subsided. I will hope and pray that you seek out and find someone that will try Mini-Doses of Botox on your back! Maybe one area at a time!!

  • lightweaver
    2 years ago

    My back is a big problem It goes rigid. Then my legs start up. I am only able to stretch a bit. I tried the TENS years ago and realized I Did not like more the electric like thing that happened. I had that already. I know it works foe many.

  • OliviaJ
    2 years ago

    It seems I’m lucky not to have back spasms, but leg spasms when I’m trying to sleep make me crazy. One night, my left leg will be the culprit, the next it will be my right leg, then it will be both. I haven’t tried Salonpas patches, but I do use a lot of tiger balm, which has similar ingredients. It’s good stuff for a large area (along my ham strings, top of knee, bottom of feet. I also take gabapentin, which helps too. Some nights, I swear I’m going for amputation next!

  • Dorry
    2 years ago

    It was so comforting for you to write. You are going for amputation next. I understand this. I am not diagnosed with MS but have all the symptoms. I saw my doctor today and she is offering me iron tablets for weakness in the legs. I said today I am going to ask for amputation. Perhaps she will get the message. “I have had enough of this pain and we have our limitations”. Even if we would not go that drastic to get amputation it is the strength of how far we feel we would go to get relief from pain.

  • Vicky1925
    2 years ago

    Thanks for information on using a TENS unit. I hadn’t even thought it a possible choice.

  • wolfmom21fl
    2 years ago

    do I? oh yes! and it is maddening. My upper back and neck is pretty bad. on top of the muscle spasms i have 4 (yes, 4) herniated discs in my neck, one of which has caused the bone to press into the spinal bundle of nerves. i am glad you found the TENS unit. i rely heavily on the wonder of the modern world. i have found it especially useful for the so called MS hug spasms i get around the left side of my rib cage that can only be described as having a metal strap slowly tightened around me that bites every time i move or take a deep breath. I also get these really weird spasms in the pelvic floor muscles.. those are so intense and painful they make me nauseous. i have not figured out a way to relieve these.. nor how to avoid them in the first place. they are quite random

  • isaacson72
    2 years ago

    I’ve wondered if this is my problem as well, my back/neck is always really stiff. I do have arthritis/degenerative disc disease (at 45… too young) but according to my ortho, it’s mild so not likely to be causing my problems. My neuro has not mentioned spasticity as being the culprit, although has suggested I take duloxetene to combat the back pain, paroxysmal spasms & headaches. Triple whammy pain med, apparently. I start this weekend. I also love stretching. I’ve tried acupunture & PT – neither worked.

  • Littlehr
    2 years ago

    I also have spacicity in my back. I stretch every day and get massages every two weeks. My poor massage therapist is always getting the same knots out every time. I take Robaxin (muscle relaxer) twice a day. The massage helps for about a weeks but the muscles start knotting up and it’s always the same ones.

  • Cardgal18
    2 years ago

    I too have back spasticity. Mine is a circular area just below my bra only on the right side. It is constantly tight but can really spasm and get painful depending on how active I am. I call it my MS spot! Stretching does nothing. I also get it in my ribs, feels tight and like there’s a golf ball stuck under them, also just on the right side, I have half an MS hug! I have used the OTC lidocaine cream and roll-on and it helps. Also tizanadine and tramadol if the pain gets too much. TENS unit also, but hard to position it sometimes to get a good result.

  • wolfmom21fl
    2 years ago

    This could be the MS hug in action!!! the TENS unit along with an anti inflammatory gel i got from my pain doc has helped tremendously with this. The gel is Voltaren and its by prescription. a small amount massaged into the area then the TENS unit for about 20 mins.. sometimes need to do the TENS for another 20 after about a half hour but usually relieves it almost entirely

  • Legstowalk03
    2 years ago

    Iam allergic to anti inflammatories. Tramadol and Lyrica Help.

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