What is spasticity?

Spasticity is a movement disorder that can occur in conditions which affect the brain or the spinal cord, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, or brain injury. Spasticity is caused by an imbalance between signals that inhibit or stimulate the spinal cord. This results in hyperexcitable stretch reflexes, increased muscle tone, and involuntary movements.

What are the symptoms of spasticity?

Spasticity causes muscle stiffness and tightness, which interferes with voluntary movements. Spasticity can also cause muscle spasms (jerky involuntary movements) or clonus (repetitive involuntary movement). Stiffness and spasms are often bothersome and sometimes painful, and they interfere with the ability to carry out daily activities. Spasms may also disrupt sleep and increase daytime fatigue. When spasticity is severe, contractures (fixed limitations of range of motion) may develop.

How can spasticity be treated?

Stretching, exercise, and rehabilitation are the first line of interventions for spasticity. Oral medications are often effective, but may cause side effects such as drowsiness. When spasticity affects only a few muscles, local injections of botulinum toxin can be helpful. When spasticity is diffuse and severe, intrathecal baclofen (Lioresal®) (ITB) may be a good treatment option.

What is baclofen?

Baclofen is one of the medications most commonly used to treat spasticity. Baclofen acts in the spinal cord, and improves hyperactive reflexes and excessive muscle tone. Some of the side effects of baclofen are:

Stopping baclofen suddenly may cause withdrawal symptoms that include seizures. You should avoid suddenly stopping this medication.

How do I know that I am a good candidate for ITB?

If you have severe spasticity, and oral medications are not helpful, your treating physician may refer you for a consultation to evaluate if ITB could be a good option for you. Detailed clinical assessments are performed, usually by a physician and physical / occupational therapists. These professionals provide information about ITB for discussion.

A test injection is then performed to further evaluate the appropriateness of ITB. The test consists of a spinal tap, with a small dose of Baclofen injected into the spinal fluid. A few hours later, the effects of the medication are evaluated. These effects are temporary, but provide very useful information that help with the decision process.