Could you have spasticity?

Finding a doctor who is experienced in spasticity and the full range of treatment options can help.

“If someone out there thinks they may have spasticity, they should communicate with their doctor and let them know. I think it’s worth it.”

—Syreeta, stroke survivor experiencing spasticity.

Spasticity causes certain muscles in the arms and legs to involuntarily contract or tighten

Spasticity is a distinct condition that may occur due to a stroke, neurological (brain) disorder, or injury to the brain or spinal cord. Because spasticity is separate from your primary condition, it may require specialty care that is not part of your current recovery plan.

The most common causes of spasticity are:

  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Cerebral palsy (CP)
  • Spinal cord injury (SCI)
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

There are a range of symptoms that may make simple tasks like shaking hands or brushing your teeth more difficult. They include:

  • Muscle stiffness and tightness
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Sudden muscle spasms/twitches
  • Fast muscle contractions
  • Trouble or pain when moving affected limbs and joints

Spasticity can affect upper and lower limbs

Some signs are:

Bent elbow, bent wrist, clenched fist, turned in foot, curled toes.

When left untreated, symptoms can progress and worsen over time.

Long-term complications, like deformities to affected areas and abnormal posture, can also occur. That’s why it’s important to have a strong care team, which can be proactive about treatment options to help manage spasticity.

Is your care team complete?

Some doctors may already be a part of your care team, like a neurologist and physical therapist. Adding someone to your care team who specializes in the full range of spasticity treatments, like a physiatrist, can make a difference.

Have you seen a physiatrist?

Physiatrists are physicians who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) for people of all ages. Physiatrists are experts in the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. They work with people over the course of their life and specialize in treatments that aim to restore function that may have been lost through injury, illness, or disabling conditions.

Different doctors have different expertise. Care teams are most effective when multiple specialties work together to treat spasticity.

What should you and your team’s spasticity treatment goals be?

  • Discuss goals for the future with all the members of your care team
    Set goals for improving daily activities, reducing pain, and relieving discomfort with your physiatrist or neurologist. They'll help make a plan to move forward and connect you with any physical or occupational therapies you might need.
  • Talk about a spasticity treatment plan with your doctor
    Spasticity is progressive, which means it can get worse over time if left untreated. It’s important to meet with a specialist and start treating spasticity as soon as possible.

Talk about treatment options

Start a conversation with your doctor to find the right treatment plan for you.

Physical or occupational therapies to help improve function and independence

Oral medications to relax muscles in the entire body

Injections for when spasticity has developed in areas of the body

If your care team is missing a doctor who has experience in treating spasticity, the locator tool from the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation can help find one near you.

SAY the impacts of spasticity

Evaluating the impacts of spasticity can help identify treatment goals.



how difficult it may be to straighten, bend, or flex your arms and legs due to muscle stiffness or tightness.



how spasticity is making everyday tasks difficult or impossible, such as picking up objects, dressing, or walking up and down stairs.



deserve more. Ask your doctor about treatments beyond physical therapy that may help manage your spasticity.

Use this guide to discuss treatment goals during your next doctor’s appointment.

Watch other people who have experienced spasticity discuss the importance of being proactive and talking to a specialist

Explore Additional Resources

Daily living tips

Learn more about managing daily life with spasticity.

Resources for caregivers

Learn more about symptoms to watch, how to work with a care team, and managing self-care.