Usually only the symptoms can be treated
Up until a few years ago, anyone who moved a bit strangely was called a spastic. Today the word is no longer used, as it is likely to cause offense. And in reality, "spastics" are people who suffer from a painful muscle spasm caused by a disorder of the central nervous system - in other words, in the brain or spinal cord.
What does spasticity mean?
The term "spastic" comes from the Greek spastikos meaning pulling or cramping.
What is spasticity?
Spasticity is an involuntary reflex movement that often occurs after total or partial injury to the spinal cord. Spastic movements are similar to the involuntary reflexes you have when a doctor taps you on the knee under the knee cap and the knee immediately stretches out.
What are the effects of spastic attacks?
In a spastic attack the muscles tense suddenly and uncontrollably (doctors call this "muscle tone"). This happens when you move. A spastic attack can also be triggered by stimuli such as heat, cold, pressure or pain. The harmonious coordination of bending and stretching muscles is disturbed. Delicate movements are difficult or quite impossible. Above all, mobility is often severely restricted. This can lead to a spastic or flabby paralysis. Posture is also often badly affected.
How does spasticity happen?
There are many different kinds of spasticity. The causes of spastic paralysis lie in an injury to the brain or spinal cord that occurs before, during or after birth, and can be the result of paraplegia, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury or cerebral palsy. However, the symptoms can vary considerably. There can be isolated paralysis of the legs or arms (para- or diplegia), one-sided paralysis (hemiplegia), total limb impairment (quadriplegia), and problems with specific movements (athetosis). In individual cases there can also be problems with mental development, speech and perception. Often it's the person's general development that must be monitored. In Germany and Switzerland, around two to three in every thousand babies born each year come into the world with this type of disability.
What forms of treatment exist for spasticity?
If the cause of the spasticity is irreversible - which is often the case - then only the symptoms can be treated. That means that although the nerve damage can never be healed, its consequences and effects can be treated or at least minimized. Treatment includes both physiotherapy and drugs. Essentially, there is a difference between treating focal spasticity (one that has a disease focus) and generalized spasticity. The treatment of generalized spasticity is based on various anti-spastic drugs, which are taken in tablet form. In severe forms of spasticity, however, drugs have only a limited effect. In rare cases, surgical methods are used such as cutting through the neural pathways in the spinal cord.